Recent controversial changes to Swiss asylum law will be put to a national vote. A group of primarily left-wing organisations and parties opposed to the changes handed in more than 60,000 signatures on Thursday to force a referendum.
The law’s opponents are especially critical of revisions stipulating that people can no longer apply for asylum at Swiss embassies abroad and that conscientious objectors and deserters will no longer be considered for asylum status.
However, left-wing parties - in particular the Social Democrats - were divided over whether to support the collection of signatures. The party's president, Christian Levrat, warned that a referendum would be counterproductive.
The changes to Switzerland’s asylum policy, which are already in effect because parliament considered them urgent and voted on them in September 2012, will last until the end of September 2015. If the Swiss people vote against the changes, they will only be in effect until September 2013.
The asylum law revisions also allow for the creation of special centres for unruly asylum seekers already in the country as well as tests of various procedures to speed up asylum requests. Furthermore, federal authorities are allowed to provide accommodation for asylum seekers for up to three years without asking explicit permission from cantonal authorities.
Also on Thursday, opponents of changes in the Swiss vaccination law handed in more than 80,000 signatures to force a referendum on that issue. The vaccination law, which had not been updated since 1970, was revised in September 2012 to recommend vaccination for some high-risk groups and health workers. The signatures were collected primarily by members of conservative organisations, who opposed changes which they fear could give the government a mandate to force vaccinations on the general public in future.
Dates for the votes will be set in the future, after signatures have been verified and counted.