German officials have complained that the border with Switzerland has more holes than a “Swiss cheese” as asylum seekers head north across the Alps, despite the best efforts of Swiss border guards to intercept them.
Some 2,300 people without papers entered Germany across the Swiss border between January and June, according to official German statistics quoted by the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. But German states bordering Switzerland believe that the true figure is much higher.
Frank Hämmerle, president of the German border city of Konstanz, estimates that 10 to 20 illegal immigrants come over from northeastern Switzerland every day – up to 600 per month at just one crossing point. Helmut Mutter, police spokesman for the town of Weil am Rhein, compared the border from Basel with the holes in Swiss cheese because the situation is so desperate.
Asylum seekers, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, are apparently paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to transit illegally through Switzerland, Hämmerle told the Tages-Anzeiger.
German authorities told the newspaper that they have submitted 900 requests to send people back to Switzerland in the first seven months of the year. The Swiss have rubber stamped 200 requests, according to the source. That information has not been confirmed by the Swiss authorities.
Swiss border guards admit they are having a tough time controlling the situation, particularly at the border with Italy. So far this year, Swiss authorities have picked up 22,181 people who entered Switzerland illegally, a third of those in July alone.
Guards on the Italian border turned away 4,149 people last month who had either already applied for asylum in other countries or did not have papers with them. Under the so-called Dublin accord, member countries – including Switzerland – may send asylum seekers back to the country where they first registered for asylum.
Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga last month said that many illegal immigrants entering Switzerland from the south had no intention of staying in Switzerland, but were heading towards Germany.
The government has so far rejected the idea of significantly boosting the number of border guards or employing the army to help out. But Switzerland has been seeking to improve border control cooperation with neighbouring countries, including Germany and Italy.
Italian authorities announced on Wednesday that they would be opening a refugee camp housing 300 people to accommodate the migrants who had attempted to cross into Switzerland but were sent back to Italy. The camp will be built in Como, near the Swiss-Italian border.
swissinfo.ch with agencies