The Federal Foreigners Commission has expressed scepticism about the introduction of plans by the government to integrate foreigners into Swiss society.
Last month, the cabinet announced more than 40 wide-ranging measures to improve the integration of foreigners, with languages and education being the focus.
At a news conference in Bern on Tuesday, the commission said it was concerned about the increasing number of blunders, posters and statements made against foreigners ahead of the parliamentary elections on October 21.
The president of the commission, Francis Matthey, did not mince his words: “We must prevent the current damaging climate” against foreigners to call into question “the image and dignity of our country”.
The commission recommended that the government measures should only be used with caution.
It said that integration efforts that obliged foreigners to take language courses, for example, were nothing new in Europe.
No universal remedy
Although agreeing the measures were appropriate to permit “as rapid an entry into the host society as possible”, it did not consider them a universal remedy.
A residence permit that was dependent on attendance at a language course was a one-sided approach. A successful integration policy also depended on the “good climate” within a country.
The commission also suggested that the authorities also examine whether those people who behaved in a hostile manner towards foreigners should also be obliged to take courses.
In a related development, the centre-right Radical Party has presented plans for a national integration law.
Party President Fulvio Pelli said the current integration policies had failed to resolve existing problems, including youth violence and a significant number of criminals of foreign origin.
He called for a pro-active and constructive strategy of easing integration problems.
There was only a lukewarm reception from the other main political parties after publication of the government report, which the centre-left Social Democrats describing it as “long-winded”.
The rightwing Swiss People’s Party wants to link the issuing of a residence permit for foreigners to tests in a national language - German, French or Italian.
For their part, the centre-right Christian Democratic Party said the report failed to address ways to tackle discrimination of immigrants in the hunt for jobs and housing.
Eduard Gnesa, director of the Federal Migration Office, said the measures would mainly be targeted at young foreigners, and they included improving residential areas for immigrants, public safety, sport, health and the fight against racism.
Nevertheless, the government emphasised that immigrants also had a personal responsibility to get to grips with Swiss habits and norms and to learn a national language.
swissinfo with agencies
The foreign population of Switzerland in 2006 was 1,523,586 people.
Foreigners represent 20.4% of the total population.
They make up 25.4% of the population in the Italian-language region, 25% in the French-language area and 18.5% in the German-language part.
The Swiss electorate approved the new law on foreigners with a clear 68% yes vote in September 2006.
It limits immigration for citizens outside the EU and the European Free Trade Association (Efta) to highly skilled labour.
It also aims to encourage integration, in particular by language courses, while cracking down on human trafficking and marriages of convenience.
Foreigners also have to make efforts towards integration, according to the spirit of the law.
In compliance with the JTI standards