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 (Keystone)
(Keystone)

Anyone can apply for asylum – protection from persecution – in Switzerland, but applicants must prove or at least credibly demonstrate their refugee status. 

The Swiss Asylum Act defines the term refugee and the conditions which can – and cannot – result in asylum. 

According to the act, “cases are not credible in particular if they are unfounded in essential points or are inherently contradictory, do not correspond to the facts or are substantially based on forged or falsified evidence”.

First steps 

An asylum application can be made:

- Verbally or in writing at any Swiss border post or during customs clearing at an airport on arrival in Switzerland.

- After evading the border controls having entered Switzerland illegally, and by foreign nationals already officially residing in Switzerland.

It is not possible to apply for asylum in Switzerland from abroad. However, people who want to apply for asylum in Switzerland may file a visa request with a Swiss diplomatic representation. The embassy or consulate will determine whether compelling reasons exist which warrant the issuing of a visa for Switzerland. 

People who have left their home countries and are staying in a third state are considered not in serious danger and therefore ineligible for asylum.

Note that Switzerland is party to the Dublin Agreement, which requires the first European country where an asylum seeker arrives to fingerprint the person and hear their application. Asylum seekers who then travel to another EU/EFTA country and reapply for asylum should in theory be sent back to the country where they first applied – although Switzerland has been involved in exceptions to this. 

Registration 

Irrespective of their method of entry, asylum seekers have to report to one of the State Secretariat for Migration’s reception and procedure centres in Chiasso, Vallorbe, Basel, Bern, Kreuzlingen, Altstätten or Zurich (Zurich is just a procedure centre). 

Applicants will then be asked for their personal details, travel itinerary and motives for asylum. They will be fingerprinted and photographed to determine whether they have sought asylum in Switzerland in the past under another name. 

To prevent terrorists from entering Switzerland under the guise of asylum seekers, the State Secretariat for Migration passes all asylum applications from high-risk countries to the Federal Intelligence Service. The list of high-risk countries is confidential. 

The applicant’s documents will be sent to the Asylum Procedure Directorate at the State Secretariat for Migration, which will make a first-instance decision. This can take up to ten days, during which time applicants will be housed at the reception centre. Here are some reception centre rules, including information on the application process, opening hours, meal times, applicants’ responsibilities and medical care. 

Refugees arriving at a Swiss reception centre have to hand over to the state any assets worth more than CHF1,000 ($1,002) – up to a maximum of CHF15,000 – to help cover their costs. They will be given a receipt. Personal objects such as wedding rings are exempt. If refugees leave voluntarily within seven months, they can get the money back. In addition, refugees who win the right to stay and work in Switzerland have to surrender 10% of their pay for up to ten years until they repay CHF15,000 in costs. 

Rejection 

An application will normally be dismissed at first instance for these reasons. If an application passes the first hurdle, this is what happens next

As a rule, asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected are given a timeframe to leave Switzerland: anywhere from a few days to six months. Failure to leave voluntarily will result in forced deportation by the police. Searches will be conducted for anyone who stays in the country illegally. 

Rejected applicants have the right to appeal

When a person is not granted asylum but repatriation is still not an option, the State Secretariat for Migration can order temporary admission to Switzerland. Reasons for this may include a general climate of violence (as in Syria), risk of persecution or situations where a person has no access to necessary health care. 

Earning money 

If there is no clear abuse of the asylum procedure, applicants will be allotted to a canton, which will see to their basic needs and will proceed with a detailed hearing on their motives for asylum. Interpreters are provided.

The cantons are responsible for granting social assistance to asylum seekers and provisionally admitted persons. This is on average CHF1,200 per person per month for accommodation, food, toiletries and household articles, clothing, pocket money, health insurance and care costs. 

Applicants are not allowed to work during the first three months after filing an asylum application. This can be extended to six months. Here is some information on finding gainful employment afterwards. Here are the addresses for cantonal immigration and labour market authorities

In June 2016 Swiss voters backed government plans to speed up asylum procedures in Switzerland. Under the proposal, most asylum requests should be decided within 140 days of being submitted, including time for appeals - compared with the 400 days at present. Most of the simpler asylum cases will be dealt with in new bigger federal reception centres that can take up to 5,000 people. Asylum seekers will be also be granted free legal aid.

In 2015, the State Secretariat for Migration received 39,523 applications. It looked at 28,118 in first instance and granted asylum to 6,377. In other words, three-quarters of applications were rejected. 

Family reunions 

For the entire duration of the asylum procedure, asylum seekers may not bring family members to Switzerland. 

Recognised refugees (holding a B or C permit) may bring family members if there are no grounds to prevent them from doing so. Recognised refugees who are granted an F permit (temporarily admitted persons) must wait at least three years before submitting an application for family reunification for their children under 18 and their spouse.

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