New rules on asylum procedures have come into force across Switzerland, providing for faster decisions and free legal advice for asylum seekers.
Most asylum proceedings are now to be completed within 140 days in federal asylum seekers’ centres. This compares with an average of 280 days in 2015.
The reform was approved by two-thirds of Swiss voters in spring 2016.
As of March 1, asylum requests will mostly be processed in new federal asylum seekers’ centres, rather than in the cantons. Around 80% of the accommodation capacity is now ready, the justice ministry said in a press releaseexternal link on Thursday.
Asylum seekers will only be distributed among the cantons if further investigations are necessary. These extended procedures are to be concluded within one year, according to the new legal provisions.
Free legal advice for asylum seekers has been included in the reforms in an attempt to ensure that procedures are still fair, despite being faster.
Asylum seekers will now be entitled to free legal support from the first day. This will be offered by non-governmental organisations which are then reimbursed by the federal authorities. The Swiss Refugee Councilexternal link supports the new measures but some organisations including the Democratic Jurists of Switzerland external linkand the Centre Social Protestantexternal link say the new arrangements go against their ethics and independence.
The justice ministry says the new procedures will “make it possible to integrate recognised refugees and temporarily admitted persons more quickly – but also to return more quickly those persons who are not dependent on Swiss protection”.
It says a pilot test in Zurich since 2014 has shortened asylum procedures by a third. The number of complaints has also fallen by a third and three times as many asylum seekers have returned to their country voluntarily.