Switzerland has been criticised by Amnesty International for a hardline stance against migrants entering via its southern border. Many migrants were prevented from applying for asylum, which the organisation says “violates Swiss law”.
The forced deportation of thousands of asylum seekers from Switzerland to Italy since the summer was flagged up in Amnesty’s report on the 2016 human rights situation globally. In particular it described facial discrimination against “people of colour or with North African features”, over-zealous Swiss border guards and the blocking of unaccompanied minors on the Swiss-Italian border.
“It is clear that the border control methods put in place by Swiss authorities prevent or dissuade people from entering into the country,” said Denise Graf, the asylum section head of the Swiss chapter of Amnesty International. Refusing migrants the right to apply for asylum in Switzerland “violates Swiss law”, she said.
Switzerland previously said any individual requesting asylum would be granted the opportunity.
Although Switzerland is not one of the main destination countries for asylum seekers, between 2009 and 2014 it was the country that transferred the most migrants to another EU state. This practice is part of the Dublin accords, signed in 1990 and adopted by Switzerland in December 2008. According to this agreement, an asylum application can be made only once – as a rule, in the first country in which the migrant is registered. In most cases, this is Italy or Greece.
According to Amnesty International, thousands of migrants and refugees were sent back to Italy using “simplified” border procedures, which the human rights organisation qualified as illegal. There was a “lack of evaluation of the individual situations” that would result from a migrant’s return to Italy, should Italy then deport them to countries like Sudan, it said.
The situation is “even more serious” for unaccompanied minors on the Swiss border, whose vulnerability had not given due consideration. Dozens of minors with family in Switzerland had been sent back to Italy in 2016, Amnesty International said.
Last year Amnesty International demanded clarification from Swiss authorities over reports by children that they had been sent back when trying to join their parents there. The State Secretariat for Migration said at the time they expected any child attempting to join relatives in Switzerland would be delivered to the care of migration authorities.
A number of migrants are stranded in the Italian town of Como. None of the people questioned there by Amnesty had been informed of the process to follow for asylum in Switzerland
The southern Swiss canton of Ticino has been the main point of entry for many thousands of illegal arrivals, whose final destination is thought to be Germany or Scandinavia.
Within Switzerland, the Amnesty report repeated concerns raised in July by the national commission for the prevention of torture that the police had used “disproportionate force in certain cantons” while expelling migrants.