Asylum seekers face longer stays in transit

The cabinet decided to close many asylum homes Keystone

The cabinet has approved plans to scale back the infrastructure for asylum seekers in a bid to cut costs and encourage rejected applicants to return home.

This content was published on March 1, 2006 - 17:44

Voters are likely to have the final say later this year on tightening the asylum laws.

Under the plan adopted by the government on Wednesday, asylum seekers can now be held in the five registration and transit centres at the country's borders for up to 60 days, instead of 30 days, before being transferred to other accommodation across the country.

The authorities are hoping to process up to two-thirds of asylum requests at the registration centres.

The current system had to be adapted to the decreasing number of asylum requests over the past two years, said Justice Minister Christoph Blocher.

The aim is to cut into half the infrastructure to an average of 10,000 requests per year, resulting in annual savings of SFr200 million ($153 million).

"We have to be tough with people who have been ordered to leave the country," Blocher said.

Voluntary repatriation

The new measures also include a programme to encourage the voluntary return of rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin.

The cabinet also agreed to a temporary arrangement whereby the country's 26 cantons will receive more federal money - SFr1,800 per head - to help pay for looking after rejected asylum seekers. This is three times more than the cantons currently receive, but short of the SFr4,200 they initially demanded.

The non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council criticised the cabinet decision to extend the stay of asylum seekers in registration centres.

"Such centres are not fitted for long stays, and asylum applicants have no access to legal aid because they are not allowed to leave the centres," Jürg Schertenleib of the Refugee Council told swissinfo.

However, he welcomed the government's decision to encourage the repatriation and easing access to the job market for asylum seekers with temporary residency status.

Tighter laws

Parliament last year adopted proposals to tighten the asylum laws These would allow foreigners awaiting deportation to be detained for longer periods, cut social welfare payments to rejected asylum seekers, and exclude from asylum procedures people arriving without valid identity papers.

But a coalition of aid agencies, churches, refugee and human rights organisations as well as the centre-left political parties have been collecting signatures in a bid to challenge the parliamentary decision to a nationwide vote, which is likely to take place this year.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Parliament last year decided to cut welfare payments to rejected asylum seekers, and to exclude from asylum procedures those without valid identity papers.

The decision has been challenged to a nationwide referendum by centre-left parties, church groups and aid organisations, likely to held later this year.

The government on Wednesday decided to drastically reduce the asylum infrastructure, in a bid to cut spending.

It said the number of asylum requests had decreased over the past years. The authorities last year registered 10,061 asylum requests, a drop of 30% from a year earlier, and the lowest number since 1986.

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