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Cities call for changes to asylum policy

Zurich Mayor Elmar Ledergerber called for quotas on non-European migrant workers

(Keystone)

Swiss towns and cities have criticised Switzerland's asylum policy, calling on the federal authorities to fund emergency assistance to rejected asylum seekers.

At the same time the mayor of Zurich, Elmar Ledergerber, spoke out in favour of a less restrictive migration policy that would allow the job market to recruit workers from non-European countries.

At a conference on asylum and migration on Friday representatives of the country's towns and cities called on the government to cover all the costs of providing emergency aid to those asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected outright.

They also requested federal support in deporting those with no right to remain in the country.

"We demand rapid procedures and a humane attitude in dealing with the problems. We also call on the federal authorities to assume their responsibility," said Lucerne city councillor Ruedi Meier.

Benefits withdrawn

Under tougher legislation introduced last year, asylum seekers whose applications are not examined are no longer entitled to social benefits. This places a big financial burden on the towns to care for those with no means of support, Meier said.

According to Meier, the cities also opposed plans by Justice Minister Christoph Blocher to withdraw welfare benefits from asylum seekers whose applications are considered and subsequently rejected.

He said this could apply to up to 15,000 people, many of whom are well integrated in society.

During the debate Monika Stocker, in charge of social affairs in the city of Zurich, said she hoped Switzerland would not follow the example of the Netherlands which has suppressed all support to rejected asylum seekers.

Jörg Schild, a member of the Basel City council, criticised the federal authorities for making the cantons bear the cost of providing for asylum seekers. He said the government was trying to save money at the expense of the cantons.

Controlled migration

Zurich mayor Ledergerber told the conference the authorities should consider introducing "controlled migration" from non-European countries to meet the economy's need for skilled workers.

Ledergerber said that by admitting more immigrants to work in the country, Switzerland would reduce the number of asylum requests.

He said a quota of work places could be fixed every year, depending on the needs of the economy.

He spoke in favour of a migration policy which would "give migrants autonomy and the means to prevent them sliding into petty criminality". The key to this was better integration, he said.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Number of asylum requests in 2004: 14,250.
Change in comparison with 2003: -32%.
In April 2004, Switzerland cut welfare payments to asylum seekers whose applications had been rejected outright.
Rejected asylum seekers can claim emergency aid from the cantons.

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