Zurich provides test case for new asylum centres

A refugee from Gambia stows his suitcase at an asylum center Keystone

The city of Zurich has offered space to the Federal Migration Office to build a temporary centre for up to 500 asylum seekers. The project will be a way to test cantonal and federal cooperation in implementing recent asylum law changes.

This content was published on February 1, 2013 - 12:55 and agencies

Space for the new centre has been set aside in an area in the west of Zurich. The city expects to save around SFr1 million ($1.1 million) by hosting the centre due to the fact that the federal government will take care of schooling, housing and security concerns for the asylum seekers to be housed there. Normally, such responsibilities fall to individual cantons.

At a news conference on Friday announcing the building plans, city officials along with the federal authorities said the project would be an ideal way to test new laws designed to process asylum requests more quickly. For example, the proposed centre would allow translators, medical personnel and councillors to operate out of a single location, making it easier to process cases.

The migration office would like to rent the plot of land for 15 years in order to properly develop it into a housing centre that could also last beyond the trial period if the project is successful. Building plans have yet to be finalised, but the city of Zurich has recommended constructing a “container city” out of shipping containers, much like a community that already exists in one part of Zurich.

City officials said those living in the temporary housing would be subject to strict curfews and house rules. The Duttwiler plot is currently home to city offices and an industrial site.

Current law

Recent changes to Swiss asylum law state that Switzerland no longer provides refugee status to conscientious objectors and army deserters, most notably in Eritrea. The new laws also allow for the creation of special centres for uncooperative asylum seekers already in the country and state that asylum seekers may no longer file applications at Swiss embassies abroad. The asylum law revisions will be put to a nationwide vote in June.

The legal revisions also stipulate that the government is authorised to test different procedures to speed up asylum requests, as it will now do in Zurich, and federal authorities can house asylum seekers for up to three years in accommodations without asking explicit permission from cantonal authorities.

The changes to Switzerland’s asylum policy are already in effect because parliament considered them urgent and voted on them in September 2012. However, they will last until the end of September 2015, and if the Swiss people vote against the changes, they will only be in effect until September 2013.

It was also recently announced that Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga will visit Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola imminently to discuss immigration issues and, specifically, how many rejected asylum seekers those countries are prepared to take back. She will visit Africa between February 1 and 7.

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