The government wants to speed up the deportation of rejected asylum seekers, with those from Nigeria at the top of the list.
But refugee organisations, which are insisting on due legal process, point out the complexity of the problem and warn against shortened interviews.
“They’re not coming here to seek asylum but to do illegal business,” Alard du Bois-Reymond, new director of the Federal Migration Office, told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, referring to applicants from Nigeria.
“Many of them drift into petty crime or deal drugs. That’s a sad fact.”
As a result, his office wants to set up a task force, which will include federal and cantonal officials, to try to figure out how to speed up the return of rejected asylum seekers to Nigeria. It intends to present a package of measures in the summer.
The issue is often in the news. Last month a 29-year-old Nigerian died shortly before a deportation flight. The man, a convicted drug dealer, had refused to leave the country and was on a hunger strike.
Hard nut to crack
“We’ve got to finish the job off,” said Hans Fehr, a parliamentarian from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, which for years has been demanding tougher action against asylum seekers who have committed a crime.
“It’s a question of simply obtaining the [asylum seekers’] papers and determining their identity. Now is the time for action.”
It’s not that simple, however, criticised Beat Meiner, head of the Swiss Refugee Council.
“Previous directors of the Migration Office have found this a hard nut to crack,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“And the situation is the same for authorities in other countries. If Mr du Bois-Reymond succeeds in solving this problem, he’ll be in great demand.”
Andy Tschümperlin from the centre-left Social Democratic Party admits that tough action is “important and correct in certain situations”, but adds that each case must be treated on an individual basis – “and that takes time”.
Genuine asylum seekers
But time is exactly what du Bois-Reymond wants to reduce.
“It’s a fact that certain Nigerian asylum seekers mock Swiss naivety and exploit the weaknesses of the asylum process.
"For me it’s clear: our country is too attractive as an asylum destination for applicants who abuse the system. Switzerland gives them too much time to do their dodgy business.”
Meiner agrees that people with no grounds for protection and who are criminally active must be sent back as soon as possible, “because tolerating such relationships would harm the requests of refugees”.
He adds, however, that that the asylum process clearly had to conform to legal requirements.
“There must also be recourse to the courts so that any potential bad decisions by the authorities can be corrected,” he said.
There were good reasons for fleeing Nigeria, he added, pointing to the “terrible human rights situation and serious poverty” in a country of 150 million people from more than 400 ethnic groups. Torture, armed conflict and persecution are everyday occurrences.
Despite that, in 2009 Switzerland approved just one application from a Nigerian asylum seeker. Six received temporary admission, but the vast majority of the almost 1,800 applications were rejected.
Meiner says the main reason for this is that during their interviews most Nigerians tell the same “stereotypical and unbelievable” story and not the truth.
“Based on these stories, rejection is probably justified. People from aid agencies who are present at the interviews come to the same conclusions,” he said.
Why Nigerians don’t tell their real stories is unclear. “We can only speculate on possible reasons. What is clear however is that people need to get hold of a lot of money for their journey to Europe.”
Meiner believed a religion-based oath and black magic could be involved. “They are probably afraid – for reasons that we can’t understand – that if they talk, something bad will happen. So they keep quiet.”
In addition, there’s the problem of missing papers, which in the case of a rejected application can lead to problems in Switzerland. A country of origin will only agree to take back a refuge if his or her identity and nationality can be proved.
Andreas Keiser, swissinfo.ch (Translated from German by Thomas Stephens)
Nigerians and Switzerland
In 2009, a total of 16,005 people applied for asylum in Switzerland, 601 fewer than the previous year.
Most applications came, for the first time, from Nigeria. The figure of 1,786 was 798 more than the previous year.
Switzerland has the same asylum policy for Nigerians as the European Union.
Nigerians’ chances are not good in Switzerland – of 1,808 cases, one was accepted and six were given temporary admission.
In 2009, 43 special flights took off from Switzerland, deporting some 360 people, mostly towards the Balkans or Africa. In 2008 there were 45 flights.
80-90 per cent of these flights take off from Zurich. The planes are specially equipped to take people who refuse to return to their countries voluntarily.
The most recent such flight to Nigeria was in November. That also experienced problems between the police and the deportees.
In 2009, 140 Nigerians accepted repatriation aid and returned voluntarily. 70 were sent home by force and 215 were accompanied on an aeroplane.
The death at the end of March is the third such death in Switzerland. In 1999 a 27-year-old Palestinian suffocated in a lift at Zurich airport. He had been accompanied by three police officers. In 2001 a Nigerian suffocated in his cell after a show of police force.