Requests for asylum in Switzerland were down by almost half in the third quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2015, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) reported on Tuesday.
A total of 7,105 asylum requests were made between July and September – a 42% reduction on the same period in 2015. The SEM predicts a total of 30,000 requests for the year, versus 39,523 in 2015.
The third quarter figure was nonetheless up by 1,143 requests (19.2%) compared to the previous three months, the SEM said in a statement.
This significant reduction is largely due to the closure of the Balkans migration route and the fact that ‘many asylum seekers have another destination than Switzerland – a country in which they don’t want to file a request’, the migration office said.
The number of requests from Syrians has dropped dramatically compared to the same period last year (-1,149), along with those from people from Afghanistan (-897) and Iraq (-421). The number of Eritreans reaching Europe via southern Italy has fallen by half this year, the SEM said. Around one-third of them applied for asylum in Italy, a much higher figure than last year, it added.
The number of requests by Eritreans for asylum in Switzerland is down by 760 compared to the same period last year. Overall, most requests still come from Eritreans, Afghans, Syrians, Ethiopians and Guineans, in descending order.
Etienne Piguet, professor of population geography at Neuchâtel University, says two policy changes have contributed to the drop in asylum requests.
"Other European countries have become more attractive. Sweden and Germany last year opened up their borders," Piguet told swissinfo.ch.
The vice-president of the Federal Migration Commission adds that Switzerland has changed its policy notably towards asylum seekers from Eritrea.
The policy became more restrictive, limiting access for Eritreans to the Swiss job market and tightening rules for family reunifications.
Piguet says Turkey's future role in preventing refugees from trying to migrate to western Europe is key.
"The closure of the migration route through the Balkans has helped to ease pressure. But the European refugee policy is full of contradictions and there could easily be a new crisis," he says.
The migration office said the situations in the various conflict regions were ‘uncertain’, which made it difficult to predict precise migration movements. However, according to the most recent estimation, a total of 30,000 asylum requests will be made this year. The authorities do not exclude an increase, however.
As part of its emergency planning to receive migrants, the SEM is continuing with plans to build special welcome centres in strategic locations close to Switzerland’s borders. A new centre is being considered in canton Thurgau near the city of Kreuzlingen. Other welcome centres have been set up in cantons Schaffhausen and Ticino.
swissinfo.ch with agencies with input from Stefania Summermatter