Authorities are turning back a growing number of unaccompanied children who are trying to cross over the border from Italy into Switzerland, a leading human rights advocacy group said on Thursday.
Switzerland’s border with Italy has become a flashpoint in Europe’s migrant crisis, with a build-up of people along Italy’s frontier since Swiss border guards started clamping down on migrant crossings in mid-July.
Swiss cabinet minister Ueli Maurer has been defending the work of Swiss border guards saying asylum seekers trying to transit Switzerland were being returned to Italy in accordance with the law.
Swiss authorities have blamed the build-up along the Italian border on an influx of African migrants seeking passage to north European countries such as Germany. Most of the thousands of migrants who have tried to reach Switzerland through Ticino were turned back since early July.
But non-governmental and human rights groups like Amnesty International have been asking Swiss authorities to clarify their policies including the handling of children who are sent back to Italy and prevented from joining family members in Switzerland.
Denise Graf of Amnesty International Switzerland told reporters in the Italian-speaking southern Swiss canton Ticino that Switzerland is disregarding the rights of children and adolescents on the border.
She said there have been a great number of unaccompanied minors who were prevented by Swiss authorities from crossing over the border even though they had requested permission to join relatives in Switzerland or other European countries.
Graf cited interviews carried out by the advocacy groups with dozens of youth camped around the rail station or staying at a parish in Como, Italy. She said there had been significant communication problems between the border guards and the youth about the legalities and asylum procedures.
Amnesty International says Swiss authorities are obliged to follow the UN convention on children’s rights by properly identifying unaccompanied boys and girls – each of whom has a right to apply for asylum at the Swiss border – and then allowing them to reunite with their families.
swissinfo.ch and agencies