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Foreigners and crime

A new report says that the proportion of foreigners who commit crimes is slightly higher than that of Swiss nationals. However, the office also says the level has remained stable since the beginning of the 1990s.

Produced by the Federal Statistics Office along with the Federal Foreigners Office and the Federal Refugee Office, the report looked at the criminal statistics for 1997. It found that around 45 per cent of the almost 64,000 people found guilty of crimes that year were foreign nationals.

Within the statistics there were some striking contrasts. Just under a quarter of the foreigners found guilty were Swiss residents, while 19 per cent were tourists, people in transit, those crossing the border to work on a daily basis, or illegal migrants.

Six per cent of the group was asylum seekers, mainly condemned for petty theft, drugs offences and breaches of residency rules.

The study found that while amongst male Swiss citizens, only 1.7 per cent were condemned for crimes, the proportion was 2.3 per cent amongst foreign men. In contrast, while 0.3 per cent of Swiss women were found guilty of crimes, the percentage of foreign women was lower at 0.2.

Amongst asylum seekers, just over 8 per cent of men and 0.7 per cent of women were found guilty in 1997. However, there were significant variations within this category.

During their first two years in Switzerland, 16 per cent of men awaiting an asylum decision committed crimes. This reduced to four per cent thereafter. The proportion was highest amongst young asylum seekers.

The report's authors suggested that the high initial proportion reflected the precarious situation in which newly-arrived asylum seekers found themselves, not only in financial terms, but also as they awaited decisions on their asylum applications. Their difficult material situation coupled with social isolation, and the temptations presented by relatively wealthy Swiss surroundings, were all cited as reasons for an apparently higher level of criminality.

In addition, the report suggested that the fact asylum seekers are heavily controlled by the authorities meant they were more likely to be arrested for crimes than other members of society were.

Traffic violations topped the list of crimes committed in 1997, which represented nearly two-thirds of all crimes committed in the country.

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