Cities reject plans to tighten asylum laws
Representatives of Swiss towns and cities have criticised moves at a federal level to tighten the country's asylum laws.
At a conference on Tuesday, they argued that politicians should be focusing on helping asylum seekers to integrate into society.
Around 100 representatives of towns and cities across the country attended the one-day conference on asylum, which was organised by the city of Zurich.
Monika Stocker, an official in charge of social welfare issues in Zurich, said one of the aims of the event was to make the voice of Swiss cities heard in the asylum debate.
Stocker said towns and cities felt "excluded" from discussions on asylum issues, which were led by the federal government and the cantons.
Conference delegates also described moves to tighten the country's asylum laws as "repressive", adding that they would drive refugees underground.
Earlier this year the federal authorities introduced new measures stopping welfare payments for asylum seekers whose applications have been turned down.
In May the House of Representatives voted in favour of stricter immigration and asylum procedures.
The controversial package of measures, which still has to be debated in the Senate, aims to curb illegal immigration, crack down on abuse in the labour market and promote integration.
The conference also heard details of a pilot project which began in Zurich in 2003 to provide community work for asylum seekers.
Regulations prevent any asylum seeker in Switzerland from working during his or her first three to six months in the country, depending on the canton.
But Zurich city officials said the scheme had to date given more than 200 of the city’s 5,000 asylum applicants the opportunity to work in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and parks.
Zurich politician Andres Türler said that those who participated in the scheme received a "motivational" payment of around SFr210 ($165) per month.
He added that participants also found it easier to integrate into the local community.
One resolution adopted at the conference called for asylum applicants to be required by law to accept this type of community service work, adding that the cost of their wages should be shared by the federal government.
But not everyone attending the conference welcomed the pilot project in Zurich.
Oscar Tosato, responsible for youth and education in the city of Lausanne, said he approved of helping asylum applicants to integrate, but cautioned that there were risks involved in the community work programme.
“It must not be used as a means of providing cheap labour. Shouldn't we really be creating jobs which are paid at the normal levels for these kinds of [community] tasks?” he asked.
But Stocker said those who signed up to take part in the scheme were not stealing work from others who had the right to employment, adding that programme participants were assigned jobs which could not otherwise be filled.
"A commission made up of representatives of the city, business owners and trade unions makes sure of this," she said.
swissinfo with agencies
A pilot project offering work for asylum seekers was launched in Zurich in April 2003.
About 200 asylum seekers have so far taken part in the project and received a "motivational" payment of around SFr210 ($165) per month for working in the city's nursing homes, schools and parks.
The scheme sparked controversy because federal regulations ban asylum seekers from working during their first three to six months in the country (depending on the canton).
In a resolution, conference delegates criticised the federal parliament's "repressive" asylum proposals, saying the policies would only force more people underground.
The representatives from Swiss cities and towns at the conference heard details of a pilot project in Zurich, which has been aiming to provide community work for asylum seekers.
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