Federal and cantonal authorities will soon be able to force local communities to open their civilian bunkers to asylum seekers if there is a shortage of accommodation, the cabinet has decided.
The regulation, which comes into force on April 1, is a precautionary measure, the Swiss defence ministry said on Friday.
Some civilian bunkers are already being used as accommodation for asylum seekers.
In Switzerland the federal authorities are responsible for asylum proceedings but it has been up to the country’s 26 cantonal authorities, which enjoy considerable autonomy, to implement the policy and oversee questions such as accommodation.
A requisition will first require the authorities to establish that there is a national or cantonal shortage in accommodation for asylum seekers and to propose the bunkers as an emergency measure.
“The asylum situation has been strained for some time,” the statement said. “Its future development is hard to predict. It can’t be ruled out that numbers of new asylum seekers will rise over a short period of time.”
In February there were 2,705 asylum requests in Switzerland, according to the State Secretariat for Migration. This was around a quarter less than in January. The main countries of origin were Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq
Swiss authorities granted 6,377 people asylum last year. A similar number were granted temporary protection.
Local resistance and a dearth of suitable accommodation mean that housing for asylum seekers has so far been a challenge.
Some cantons and communities have been using more unusual properties such as converted shipping containers, army tents, hospitals, an old fire station and even a country mansion for short-term shelter. The use of underground military bunkers has in the past caused controversy and even protestsby asylum seekers housed there.
swissinfo.ch and agencies