Justice Minister Christoph Blocher says a tightening of Switzerland's asylum laws has led to a drop in the number of asylum applications.This content was published on August 23, 2005 - 21:00
But the non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council has rejected the findings, saying the measures have had an adverse effect on human rights.
Blocher said requests for asylum in Switzerland had fallen by 42 per cent since parliament decided more than a year ago to strip rejected asylum seekers of the right to claim social security benefits.
He also said the federal authorities managed to cut spending on asylum seekers by more than SFr15 million ($11.8 million) between April 2004 and March 2005. He said this was achieved by reducing the amount of time permitted to file an appeal against a rejection application.
The justice ministry said the number of asylum seekers fell by 12,000 since the new rules were introduced – a significantly bigger drop than the European average.
It said 4,450 people were excluded from social security payments. As a result they could apply for emergency aid provided by the cantonal authorities.
Fears and costs
Blocher, who is a member of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, added that fears that large numbers of rejected asylum seekers would turn to crime had proved unfounded.
The rate did double from 3.7 per cent to 7.4 per cent, but this had to be balanced against the large drop in asylum-seeker numbers, according to Blocher.
However, the Swiss Refugee Council dismissed the measures as an infringement of basic human rights. The NGO said the government's restrictive asylum policy compromised human dignity.
"The measures cause considerable problems for the cantonal authorities and it is not clear whether rejected asylum seekers disappear or go underground," Jürg Schertenleib told swissinfo.
Blocher added that the tighter regulations did not jeopardise Switzerland's humanitarian tradition.
He said up to 40 per cent of applicants had been granted refugee or some form of asylum status.
But he called for a further tightening of the asylum law to encourage rejected applicants to leave Switzerland.
Parliament is due to continue discussions in the next few weeks on additional restrictions put forward by the justice minister, who is known for his hard-line stance on asylum issues.
In March, the Federal Court ruled that a refusal of emergency aid was contrary to the Swiss constitution.
2003: 21,037 asylum requests, 1,636 approved
2004: 14,248 asylum requests, 1,555 approved
The new law cutting welfare payments came into force in April 2004.
Asylum requests dropped by 42% over the next 12 months (to March 2005).
4,450 people were excluded from welfare benefits, while 16% claimed emergency aid.
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