A total of 9,416 refugees aged between 12 and 18 were picked up at the Swiss border last year. More than half were 17 or 18 and only one in seven was female, according to the Swiss Border Guard.
The cabinet, which released the figures on Thursday, stressed that in 95% of cases the information was based on the person's claim rather than documents.
The Swiss Border Guardexternal link did not have data for how many young asylum seekers were travelling alone, but the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) recorded just under 2,000 unaccompanied minors in 2016. It added that, of these, around half could not prove their age.
According to the United Nations, each year millions of children cross international borders, many to flee wars and other conflict zones – and those unaccompanied by an adult or guardian are especially vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and sexual violence.
It adds that almost 100,000 of the 1.3 million people who sought asylum in Europe in 2015 were unaccompanied children, most of them from Afghanistan and Syria, and 13% were younger than 14.
Sent on their way
Refugees must apply for asylum in the first European Union country they enter, under an agreement that non-EU member Switzerland joined in 2008. Switzerland, like other countries, has been sending rejected asylum seekers back to the first European country in which they were registered. This country is then responsible for dealing with cases and repatriation if an applicant is rejected. But unaccompanied minors also may seek asylum in another European country if a close relative lives there.
The Swiss Border Guard said around half of the minors picked up applied for asylum and were handed over to the SEM. The other half were passed to foreign authorities – the vast majority to Italy, on Switzerland’s southern border.
The cabinet said these youngsters were turned away from Switzerland either because they didn’t fulfil entry conditions or because they wanted to travel through Switzerland [to another country] without applying for asylum.
The total number of asylum requests in Switzerland dropped by a third in 2016, largely because of the partial closure of the Balkan Route used by asylum seekers trying to reach Germany. There were 27,207 asylum requests last year, according to official SEM figures.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/ts