Closing borders and providing space in private homes are both ideas that have been raised for how to deal with an influx of asylum seekers to Switzerland. The younger generation has its own ideas on the matter, but their reactions can vary depending on how they are asked.
With its border to Italy, the canton of Ticino is a major entry point for asylum seekers coming from the south. That makes asylum a much-debated topic in the region, with some politicians calling for a complete overhaul of the system.
In June, the president of Ticino’s rightwing Lega dei Ticinesi party suggested closing Switzerland’s border with Italy completely to stem the flow of migrants, like France has done.
Politbox, a politics quiz app from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, asked 1,555 of its users from across the country and abroad what they thought of closing the border. Here’s what they said.
The journalists behind politbox also approached young people on the streets of Lugano and asked them whether they would consider hosting an asylum seeker in their homes for a longer period of time. Face-to-face, the response tended to be positive. Out of five people, only one said he would not consider hosting someone because he would find it strange to live with someone whom he did not know.
Another young woman responded that “I would try to put myself in that person’s place. If I were in that situation, I would like people to help me, too.”
However, when politbox polled its users to see what they thought of the idea, the response was somewhat different, with most saying they would not host someone. Older respondents were more likely to say they would open their home to an asylum seeker than younger ones. And respondents from canton Ticino were evenly divided on the topic, with 40% saying yes, 40% no, and 20% unsure.
The organisation Swiss Refugee Council has begun the process of placing asylum seekers in homes of private citizens who have expressed interest.
Stefan Frey, a spokesperson for the organisation, recently told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper that Swiss Refugee Council was focusing on placing people who have a good chance of being allowed to stay in Switzerland long-term because they view it as an integration measure.
Space in student housing
Meanwhile in Bern, two students have made headlines with their idea of hosting asylum seekers and refugees in shared apartments where young people often live together to save money while at university. Their project, called “wegeleben”, is being organised with support from the Caritas charity.
“I realised pretty quickly that it’s especially hard for young asylum seekers to find an apartment without being cut off from society,” said project co-founder Méline Ulrich, who did an internship at Caritas working with young migrants.
She and her partner in the project, Gian Färber, host information events for interested groups of young people who would like to offer asylum seekers a place in their shared apartments. So far they have placed one person in a group-living situation: a young woman who will move in in September.
The project accepts only those classified as “temporarily admitted refugees” or “refugees with asylum”. Social services at the communal level arrange payment of the rent.
For Caritas, the project could help alleviate a major housing shortage for asylum seekers and refugees who will likely be in Switzerland long-term. Judith Ledesma of Caritas says they are often competing with other low-income residents for a small number of affordable apartments.
When it came to the question of whether Switzerland should be doing more to help refugees heading for Europe, youth in Lugano felt more could be done both at home and abroad.
“I find it strange that we are spending a lot of money [on the issue] here while elsewhere refugees are dying of hunger and thirst,” said one young woman. “So first we have to do something where they are. We have to help them where we can, because we have enough money and space.”
Her companion felt something more should be done, “but [asylum seekers] shouldn’t be able to come here and profit from our funds without doing anything…they should do something to help the state in exchange”.
Meanwhile, in the political arena, many parties are solidifying and defending their positions on asylum seekers ahead of October’s federal elections.
In an interview with the magazine Schweizer Illustrierte, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga of the leftwing Social Democratic Party said she would support speeding up the asylum process by speaking with asylum seekers and rendering a decision on their requests as soon as possible after they arrive at one of five federal centres.
For its part, the conservative right Swiss People’s Party is arguing for a political agreement with Eritrea, where most asylum seekers in Switzerland come from, that would see Eritrea taking back its asylum seekers and guaranteeing their safety.
Sommaruga criticised that suggestion, saying that “people in Eritrea are punished arbitrarily and sent to prison for years. There is no country in Europe that sends asylum seekers back to Eritrea”.
People’s Party president Toni Brunner has also said his party will seek to bring about a referendum on proposed asylum system reforms. In an interview with the Zentralschweiz am Sonntag newspaper, Brunner especially came out against the proposal to give asylum seekers free legal representation.
“We oppose free lawyers for asylum seekers,” Brunner said, adding that a referendum was inevitable if that suggestion passes parliament.
In the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, the centre-right Christian Democratic Party came out in support of legal representation for asylum seekers but suggested verifying whether asylum seekers for whom the so-called Dublin reform applies should also have access to lawyers.
The Christian Democrats also came out in favour of allowing some asylum seekers to seek employment, particularly those who are already housed in cantonal facilities and not in one of the five federal centres.