Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. Immigration authorities approved 3,711 of the 22,551 asylum applications submitted in 2011. Immigration authorities processed 24,941 of the 28,631 applications received during the year and approved 2,507 applications.
In August 2011 press reports revealed that the Federal Office of Migration had wittingly ignored processing up to 10,000 asylum requests from Iraqi citizens submitted to Swiss embassies in Egypt and Syria between 2006 and 2008. An independent investigation by the Ministry of Justice led to the dismissal of the director. In March the Federal Department of Justice found that the failure to process the requests was unlawful and ordered the Federal Office of Migration to process the remaining 3,000 requests by January 2013.
On September 29, the government implemented a series of asylum policies to expedite processing of asylum requests and institute new regulations on guaranteed refugee status. The measures stipulated that conscientious objectors and army deserters would no longer automatically qualify for refugee status, and that Swiss embassies abroad would no longer accept asylum requests.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The Federal Office for Migration relied on a list of “safe countries,” and would-be refugees who originated from or transited these countries generally were ineligible for asylum. NGOs criticized the inclusion of some Eastern European and African countries in the “safe countries” list, deeming them insufficiently stable to justify automatic rejection of an asylum application.
Refoulement: In practice the government provided protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom were threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In 2011 a federal court ordered immigration authorities to stop repatriations to or via Greece. The NGO Swiss Refugee Agency voiced concerns about repatriations to Italy and Hungary. The government repatriated 37 individuals to Hungary during the year.
Refuge Abuse: The government required asylum applicants to provide documentation verifying their identity within 48 hours of completing their applications, and 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 could detain uncooperative asylum seekers, subject to judicial review, for up to six months while adjudicating their applications. The government could also detain rejected applicants for up to three months to ensure their departure or up to 18 months if repatriation posed special obstacles. They could detain minors between the ages of 15 and 18 for up to 12 months pending repatriation. Authorities generally instructed asylum seekers to leave voluntarily. Individuals who refused to depart voluntarily could be forcibly repatriated.
An amendment to the Foreign National Act, which included the establishment of a forced-return monitoring system (intended to bring the country into compliance with EU law), entered into force in January 2011. Independent observers began their in-flight monitoring duties on repatriation flights in August 2011.
On March 22, the NCPT issued an interim assessment on the effectiveness of the forced-return monitoring system, which called for streamlined coordination between police units and the minimal use of force by police to control returnees. Between January and October, the government authorized 22 flights deporting 335 persons under restrictive measures.
Amnesty International 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 lack of financial means to hire an attorney. Authorities provided free legal assistance only in cases of serious criminal offenses; deportation of asylum seekers was deemed an administrative, rather than a judicial, process.
Access to Basic Services: Several NGOs and left-wing political parties complained about insufficient and inappropriate housing for refugees. The government’s asylum policies implemented on September 29 included a new program to address housing shortages for asylum applicants.
Temporary Protection: The government also offered temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, which it did for approximately 3,100 individuals during the year, of whom 2,516 had not yet qualified as refugees.