The number of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers reaching Switzerland has increased sharply, but the country has come under fire for not having any common guidelines for their care. This is all set to change as cantonal social services directors discuss the issue on Friday.
Almost 3,000 unaccompanied minors – often aged 14 to 16 - came to Switzerland last year, and made a request for asylum. This compares with 795 for 2014. Their most common countries of origin are Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.
Under the Swiss federal system, it's the country’s 26 cantons who are in charge of looking after them. But the increased numbers of unaccompanied minors are posing problems for the smaller cantons in particular.
“We have encountered problems because you need special structures in place when taking in young people,” Fiona Elze, migration coordinator for the central canton of Schwyz, told Swiss public broadcaster SRF.
Many cantons use foster families or house the minors in special accommodation for young people.
Criticism and measures
However, Switzerland came in for criticism in 2015 from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child which expressed concern about the protection of immigrant and asylum-seeking children, pointing to “considerable differences between cantons in the enjoyment of child rights and the status of refugee children”.
Constantin Hruschka from the Swiss Refugee Council added that minor asylum seekers were often accommodated in normal asylum centres. “This is difficult to reconcile with the best interests of the child,” he told SRF.
Cantonal social services directors are meeting on Friday with the aim of drawing up clear guidelines. These are expected to include that minors should be accommodated in special centres, foster families or with relatives. In addition, legal representation and integration measures should conform to certain standards.
Elze said that common guidelines made sense. But smaller cantons could did not have the critical mass to set up special centres for minors and used foster families instead – which is more expensive, she said. Many cantons are therefore calling for more funding from the federal authorities.