Switzerland opens doors to refugees from Greece

For the first time Syrian asylum seekers from Greece are to be admitted to Switzerland under the European Union Relocation Programme.

Switzerland opens doors to refugees from Greece
Asylum seekers bags. File photo: AFP Fabrice Coffrini

The 30 Syrians are mainly people affected by the long-running conflict in their homeland, the Swiss news agency SDA reported.

The Swiss government took a decision in autumn 2015 to voluntarily join the EU programme that distributes refugees from Italy and Greece to other European countries.

Switzerland has now said it is willing to accept the first contingent of Syrians from Greece, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) told the agency.

Switzerland has agreed to accept 900 asylum seekers from Italy and 600 from Greece under the programme. So far applications for 460 people have been accepted, said SEM head of information, Giery Cavelty.

Cavelty said 120 people had already arrived in Switzerland, and more would be arriving in the coming weeks and months.

The new arrivals have to go through the standard asylum application process once they are in Switzerland.

The arrival of the asylum seekers from Greece was delayed because the EU had refused to pay the relocation costs, Cavelty said. Switzerland is now covering these itself.

In spring 2015 the Swiss government agreed to take in 3,000 people from the Syrian conflict areas. The 1,500 asylum seekers covered by the EU Relocation Programme comprise half of that total.



Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse

Minors and adults housed in Swiss asylum centres have faced serious abuses at the hands of security staff, including beatings and chokeholds, Amnesty International warned Wednesday.

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse
An asylum centre in the Alpine village of Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a report, the rights organisation’s Swiss chapter detailed “alarming abuse” in the country’s federal asylum centres, and called for urgent government action to address the problem.

The report documents a range of abuses by staff of the private security companies Securitas and Protectas, which had been contracted by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Amnesty said it had spoken with 14 asylum seekers, including two minors, who reported having faced abuse from the security officers between January 2020 and April 2021, along with 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.

The asylum seekers described being beaten and physically restrained to the point where they could not breathe or fainted.

Some also complained about trouble breathing after being doused with pepper spray, and being locked in a metal container in freezing temperatures.

The report found that six of the alleged victims had to be hospitalised, while two said they had been denied the medical assistance they had requested.

“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.

Such attitudes had seemed to target people of North African origin in particular, she said. Some of the abuse cases, Amnesty said, “could amount to torture”, and would thus violate Switzerland’s obligations under international law.

In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centres.

It stressed that there was no acceptance for “disproportionate constraint” of asylum seekers, and vowed to “sanction all improper behaviour.”

Giraudel hailed that the SEM had recently announced it would open an external probe into isolated abuse allegations.

But, she insisted, the situation was alarming and required the government to stop looking at allegations of abuse as the work of “a few bad apples”.