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Asylum dispute heats up in Vaud

Some asylum seekers facing expulsion have taken refuge in churches

(Keystone)

The long-running saga over the fates of hundreds of rejected asylum seekers and their families in canton Vaud is refusing to go away.

The authorities, who have been trying to bring the canton into line with tougher asylum legislation, are now facing a backlash from the business community.

Angered at the prospect of having to lay off workers who have often been with them for several years, around 30 businesses are refusing to play ball.

Twenty-five of them have now sent a letter to Vaud’s seven-strong government stating that they will not comply with an order to sack staff.

The firms, which include hotels, restaurants, residential care homes and cleaning companies, have described the directive as "shocking and absurd".

Jean-Jacques Gauer, general director of the five-star Lausanne Palace & Spa – who signed the letter – told swissinfo that the decision was "inhuman". He said five members of staff, whom he described as "good workers and lovely people", were affected by the ban.

"These people were tolerated by the canton for so many years and now we have received a letter telling us to scrap their contracts and kick them out," he said. "It’s just inhuman to send these guys back after six, seven or eight years."

"I fully understand that the authorities have laws to follow, but they don’t have a bunch of wood in front of them – these are human beings."

Work ban

Campaigners estimate there are around 400 people affected by the new restrictions, including a group of around 175 Ethiopians and Eritreans.

In May this year Ethiopian and Eritrean asylum seekers demonstrated outside canton Vaud’s parliament in Lausanne demanding that they be allowed to stay.

Vaud, which has a long history of offering humanitarian assistance, was the only canton not to follow federal instructions to deport those whose applications to stay in Switzerland had been rejected.

But last year it came under pressure from the federal authorities in Bern to fall into line with other cantons.

The French-speaking canton announced in September that it would remove people without temporary resident status and "if necessary, and, as a last resort, this will be done by force".

Frédéric Rouyard, a spokesman for the canton, said he was unable to comment on the contents of letter since the government had yet to read it.

But he added that there had been no change in the policy announced in April whereby rejected asylum seekers ordered to leave the country would no longer be allowed to work.

He warned that firms in violation of the law could be fined up to SFr5,000 ($3,900) per illegal employee.

Asked whether he was prepared to pay a fine, Gauer said he expected there to be a meeting with other employers to decide "where we take it from here".

Expulsions

Yves Sancey, a member of Asylum Coordination, which has been leading the fight to block the expulsions, said more and more businesses were coming forward each day to challenge the ban.

"Employers normally tend to lean towards the [political] right and yet they have come out against this measure and are putting pressure on the authorities. This is lending a great deal of weight to our campaign," he said.

The stand taken by businesses in favour of rejected asylum seekers comes shortly after the issue provoked a political crisis within the canton.

At the beginning of the month Vaud’s parliament voted narrowly in favour of a freeze on repatriations of a group of rejected asylum seekers known as "the 523".

The resolution also called for a commission of experts to be appointed to re-examine their cases and for the lifting of restrictions on working.

But 24 hours later the canton’s government ruled that it would not consider the resolution until it met again in August. It said expulsions would go ahead as planned during the summer, adding that it had no option but to fall into line with federal law.

"This is sad and deplorable," said parliamentarian Serge Melly, who submitted the motion. "The government is playing with fire and we are going to have big problems ahead."

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

Key facts

In 2002 the authorities in canton Vaud started to regulate the files of around 2,000 asylum seekers whose applications had already been rejected by the government.
1,280 files were initially passed to the Federal Migration Office.
175 dossiers – those of the Ethiopians and Eritreans – were rejected without further examination.
Of the other 1,105 cases, 582 received provisional approval and 523 were again rejected for asylum.

end of infobox

In brief

In April, the cantonal government announced that all rejected asylum seekers facing expulsion would no longer be allowed to work in Vaud.

On July 6, parliamentarians in Vaud voted narrowly in favour of a freeze on expulsions of a group of rejected asylum seekers who have lived in the canton for several years.

The following day the canton’s government overruled the decision, saying the expulsions would continue.

Dozens of firms are now challenging an order to fire rejected asylum seekers.

end of infobox


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