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Asylum policy under fire

These asylum seekers found temporary refuge in a Lausanne vicarage

(Keystone)

The Swiss Refugee Council says the tightening of Switzerland’s asylum laws last year has had an adverse effect on human rights.

The non-governmental organisation criticised the government’s move to stop welfare payments to rejected asylum seekers and its decision to drastically reduce the appeal period.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the Council said the government’s restrictive asylum policy "compromised human dignity and the constitutional state".

Since the new law came into effect on April 1, 2004, the NGO said many asylum seekers had been unfairly shut out of the screening process.

The NGO directed much of its criticism at the Federal Migration Office, saying it was in violation of the law by setting too many conditions for an application to be approved.

It added that the move to shorten the appeal period from 30 to five working days and the lack of access to legal representation infringed the human rights of asylum seekers, which, the NGO said, had also been criticised in a recent report by the Council of Europe.

However, the Migration Office dismissed the charges.

"Five days is enough time if someone is really interested in making an appeal," spokesman Dominique Boillat told swissinfo.

Emergency aid

The Council also condemned some cantons and communities for their refusal to grant emergency aid in the form of short-term food and shelter to rejected asylum seekers, despite a Federal Court ruling that even uncooperative persons had a right to this form of assistance.

The Council said asylum seekers were often not informed of their right to short-term aid and the food rations and accommodation made available were at times unsatisfactory.

It called on the authorities to lengthen the appeal period to ten days, and provide persons who have had their applications rejected access to legal council and incentives to return to their home countries.

Many rejected asylum seekers are given only 24 hours to leave the country, the NGO added, which had not had the desired effect, forcing many to remain in the country as illegal immigrants.

Boillat told swissinfo this criticism was partly justified, and said the Migration Office had started a pilot project at the beginning of the year to provide assistance for asylum seekers returning home.

"The feedback has been positive so far," he said. "A decision will be taken at the end of this month on whether to extend the project for another year."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

14,250 people applied for asylum in Switzerland in 2004.
That was a 32% decrease from the previous year.
The asylum law was tightened in April 2004.
Since then, rejected asylum seekers can no longer claim welfare benefits, and have had the period for making an appeal shortened from 30 to 5 working days.

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