The Swiss cabinet has adopted a draft law concerning major reforms of its asylum procedure, such as dramatic cuts in the average application processing time. This follows a successful fast-track trial at an asylum centre in Zurich this year.
On Wednesday the cabinet officially presented its revised draft asylum law to parliament for consideration.
Faced with a rising number of asylum seekers, Switzerland is keen to dramatically cut down the average application processing time for the majority of cases from an average of 700 days to around 100.
Under the proposed new regime, asylum applicants with simple cases will be fast-tracked and resolved within 100 days after a maximum 21-day preparatory period to open a dossier, organize medical tests or take fingerprints.
Those who previously made an asylum request in another European state that signed up to the Dublin agreement, before Switzerland – around 40% of requests – will have a 140-day resolution deadline. More complex cases will continue to be attributed to the cantons and procedures concluded within 12 months.
Applicants will benefit from free legal advice to help compile an organised case with supporting evidence and to advise them on the likelihood of an appeal being successful. A shortened appeal period has also been built into the process.
In 2013, 3,167 people received asylum in Switzerland, a quarter more than in 2012. The overall recognition rate was 15.4%. The authorities received 21,465 applications, according to the Federal Migration Office.
Since January 6, 2014 Switzerland has been testing a faster process at a new federal asylum centre in Zurich for 300 applicants. The pilot project received a positive report in June with more cases handled than expected.
Switzerland has modelled its new reforms on the asylum procedure in the Netherlands, which has taken a number of radical steps to dramatically slash the time needed to process asylum applications.
Up until July 2010, asylum seekers to the Netherlands had just 48 hours to make their case and have it assessed. This fast track procedure was scrapped and replaced by a general assessment period of eight days.
One major remaining challenge for the ongoing reform in Switzerland is the increase in capacity of federal asylum accommodation centres.
Federal authorities currently only have 1,400 places in five registration centres and 600 in temporary structures. But 5,000 places will be needed for the planned 24,000 annual asylum requests per year.
Bern therefore proposes to develop capacities in collaboration with the cantons and communes. In March they reached agreement on compensation mechanisms for the six regions that have agreed to house one of the federal asylum centres. Their definitive locations are expected to be decided by the end of the year.
The planned budget for the six centres is estimated at around CHF548 million ($597 million) but the current reforms could save round CHF170 million in the mid-term, according to the government.
Asylum and the location of centres to house applicants are controversial issues in Switzerland. A number of communities have protested against centres being built due to concerns over security and a perceived connection to crime.
The accommodation has come under fire, with a federal centre in Geneva being described as similar to a prison in a national report in 2012. The use of underground army barracks often without windows and in remote, rural locations has also raised questions.