The Swiss authorities have presented their latest proposed revision of the country’s asylum legislation, aimed notably at cutting the time needed to process requests from 1,400 days today to just 140 in most cases.
Speaking in Bern on Friday, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the goal was to increase the capacity of federal processing centres to centralise procedures and deal with 60 per cent of requests in less than five months.
Last year, the government had talked about aiming for an average of 120 days for authorities to process an asylum request, while an expert review had suggested most cases should be handled within 100 days.
The shorter processing time will mostly concern cases where the facts are clear and do not require further investigations as well as those being dealt with through the Dublin accord, whereby asylum seekers are returned to their point of entry in Europe.
More complex cases will continue to be shared among the cantons, although the aim is to process them within a year, including the time needed for repatriation. The cantons will still be responsible for organising these repatriations.
Part of the revision includes accompanying measures for asylum seekers, notably free legal advice and representation at each stage of the process from outside legal experts. They will also be advised on returning home and offered the possibility of a voluntary return with financial support.
If the government project is accepted, it will require an increase of the capacity of the federal processing centres.
Currently there are 1,400 places for asylum seekers in five centres and 600 others on temporary sites. The government project calls for around 5,000 places, although that number could be as high as 6,000, according to the head of the Federal Office for Migration, Mario Gattiker.
The federal government wants to increase capacity progressively in partnership with the cantons and communes. A simpler planning procedure could be introduced as part of the project to help speed up construction.
According to Sommaruga, the initial cost has been estimated at around CHF280 million ($303 million). However, with faster procedures and less work for the cantons, savings of around CHF170 million over the current system, which will cost at least CHF1.28 billion this year, can be expected.
The proposal was presented just a few days after Swiss voters overwhelmingly accepted keeping in place restrictive measures which were implemented last September and are valid for three years.
The new rules include the scrapping of asylum requests at Swiss embassies abroad and refusing in principle a safe haven in Switzerland to conscientious objectors.
As part of the revised legislation, the federal authorities have greater powers in asylum matters over the country’s largely autonomous 26 cantons. The amendment also provides for the creation of the national centres, as well as for sites housing asylum seekers considered troublemakers.
Swiss asylum laws have been tightened more than ten times over the past three decades.