A record number of people trying to flee into Switzerland were sent back to Italy in July, Finance Minister Ueli Maurer has told Swiss public television, SRF.
Maurer, whose responsibilities include oversight of the Swiss Border Guard, attributed the crackdown to a closer working relationship with Italian authorities since his visit to Rome earlier this month, when the two nations agreed to put beefed-up patrols and a “crisis team” along their common border.
Until then, the Swiss border presence had been twice that of the Italians. With the agreement, Maurer indicated that he hoped the border guards would be able to react much more quickly to the rising numbers of would-be immigrants at the Swiss border.
Europe’s overwhelming influx of more than one million migrants in 2015, most of them coming from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, has resulted in a huge wave of asylum requests in the European Union. The top destinations have been Germany and Sweden.
But non-EU Switzerland’s political and economic stability make it an attractive destination; foreigners already make up a quarter of the population. Requests for asylum in 2015 swelled 66% to 39,523. That included 9,966 Eritreans, 7,831 Afghans and 4,745 Syrians.
In the first quarter of 2016, asylum requests in Switzerland drastically declined, with 45% fewer registered than at the end of 2015. Migration authorities attribute the slide to fewer people attempting to reach Europe over the so-called Balkan route. Most of the people coming to Switzerland arrive by boat via the Mediterranean and Italy, a route that tends to be most frequented in the summer months.
According to Maurer, one of every two people attempting to enter Switzerland had been handed over to Italian authorities so far this month – a dramatic increase from the one in seven returned during April, May and June.
“We were able to significantly improve cooperation with Italy. The Italians are now much more present at the border crossing of Chiasso,” Maurer told SRF on Wednesday night, referring to the Swiss border town where a Swiss-led international task force has been trying to prevent organised smuggling.
Some of the migrants attempting to reach Chiasso have tried using small paths once used by cigarette smugglers or walking through the train tunnel from the Italian lakeside town of Como.