Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. As of October immigration authorities approved approximately 4,000 asylum applications, representing a 24 percent acceptance rate. In 2013 immigration authorities received 21,465 new applications, processed 23,966 applications from 2013 and previous years, and approved 3,167 applications. Asylum seekers from Eritrea and Syria were the most numerous.
On September 11, parliament extended by an additional four years asylum policies scheduled to expire in September 2015. The measures stipulated that conscientious objectors and army deserters did not automatically qualify for refugee status and Swiss embassies abroad were not to accept asylum requests.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The Federal Office for Migration (FOM) relied on a list of “safe countries.” Would-be refugees who originated from or transited these countries generally were ineligible for asylum. NGOs criticized this practice with regard to deportations to Italy, in view of the overcrowding and poor conditions of asylum reception centers and facilities there.
Refoulement: While the government generally did not force asylum seekers to return to countries where their lives or freedom may be threatened, there were reportedly exceptions. For example, in July 2013 the FOM authorized the repatriation to Sri Lanka of a 34-year-old Tamil man, whom Sri Lankan authorities subsequently arrested in Colombo and imprisoned.
In May the Swiss Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and the UNHCR released reports evaluating the Sri Lankan deportation cases that concluded several shortcomings, such as involvement by a large number of processing officers, the structural reorganization of the FOM, and the complex political situation in Sri Lanka, were responsible for the FOM’s failure to assess correctly the deportation risk for the asylum seekers. The FOM subsequently adjusted its risk profiles by expanding the criteria necessary for evaluating the potential endangerment of deported asylum seekers. At the same time, following a reassessment of the situation in Sri Lanka, the FOM decided to evaluate asylum applications from Sri Lanka on a case-by-case basis and to lift the deportation ban for Sri Lanka it imposed in August 2013.
In October the federal administrative court decided to lift the deportation ban for Angola following reassessment of the situation in that country. The court determined authorities would examine deportations on a case-by-case basis.
Refugee Abuse: The government required asylum applicants to provide documentation verifying their identity within 48 hours of completing their applications; authorities refused to process applications of asylum seekers unable to provide a credible justification for their lack of acceptable documents or to show evidence of persecution. Authorities may detain uncooperative asylum seekers, subject to judicial review, for up to six months while adjudicating their applications. The government may detain rejected applicants for up to three months to ensure their departure or up to 18 months if repatriation posed special obstacles. The government may detain minors between the ages of 15 and 18 for up to 12 months pending repatriation. Authorities generally instructed asylum seekers to leave voluntarily but could forcibly repatriate those who refused to depart voluntarily.
To accommodate an increasing numbers of asylum seekers, the FOM continued to house hundreds of asylum seekers in remote rural areas or in decommissioned military establishments retrofitted to serve as short-term housing, several of which were underground. Underground bunkers were a temporary solution, however, and authorities closed a number of them during the year.
The Federal Court also approved the opening of a new asylum center in Laax, despite protests from local residents. In addition, the migration authorities of the canton of Vaud began housing asylum seekers in private homes, while other cantons placed migrants in former hotels and civil defense installations.
On July 8, the NCPT released its annual report on deportation flights. Between May 2013 and April, the country deported 286 persons, 20 families, and 39 children to their countries of origin on 52 forced repatriation flights. Each flight had an NCPT observer aboard. While observers continued to criticize the limited disclosure of and access to medical records, there were no reports authorities used tranquilizers against the will of asylum seekers to calm agitated deportees during flights as had previously been the case. There was isolated use of preventative body shackles and wheelchairs to immobilize asylum seekers who threatened resistance, but NCPT observers noted authorities generally applied these measures less frequently than before. Nevertheless, the NCPT criticized the practice of keeping deportees on leashes during the flights, even while in the lavatories.
In July a female Syrian asylum seeker suffered a stillbirth while being deported to Italy due to the alleged refusal of Swiss officials to provide medical assistance. The woman, who was seven months pregnant, was part of a migrant group picked up by Swiss authorities on a train transiting the country from Milan to Paris. En route, the woman suffered heavy bleeding; Swiss officials reportedly did not react to her repeated calls for help, but instead locked her in a cell in the town of Brig for four hours. After arriving in Italy, she delivered a stillborn child. In October a postmortem report confirmed the child died 12 hours before the stillbirth, which according to media reports, supported claims of misconduct and neglect by Swiss border patrol officers. Authorities turned the case over to a military tribunal, where it was pending as of October.
In March a Tunisian asylum seeker protested against detention conditions at the Oftringen asylum center in Aargau Canton by injuring himself with a knife and threatening to jump out of the window. Asylum center staff took the man to a hospital, which later transferred him to a psychiatric clinic.
AI and other NGOs working with refugees continued to complain that officials often effectively denied detained asylum seekers proper legal representation in deportation cases due to their financial inability to hire an attorney. Authorities provided free legal assistance only during the initial phase of the asylum application and in cases of serious criminal offenses, deeming deportation of asylum seekers an administrative, rather than a judicial, process.
Employment: The law prohibits asylum seekers from working during the first three to six months following their arrival in the country. Afterward, asylum seekers could seek employment in industries with labor shortages, such as in the hospitality, construction, care, or agriculture sectors.
Access to Basic Services: The cantons assumed the main responsibility for providing housing, general assistance, and care to asylum seekers during the processing phase. Several NGOs and left-wing political parties complained about insufficient and inappropriate housing for refugees. Housing shortages for asylum seekers remained a problem (see section 2.d.). Asylum seekers had the right to access basic medical care, and the children of asylum seekers were entitled to attend school until ninth grade. NGOs and volunteers generally conducted language classes for asylum seekers.
Temporary Protection: The law allows for the provision of temporary protection to a specific group of persons affected by civil war and general violence. The government has not granted any group temporary protection since the law’s enactment in 1998, but it granted temporary admission to 3,432 individuals, 790 of whom the government designated as refugees.