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French asylum policy blamed for Roma influx

Police watch over Romanian asylum seekers picked up in canton Vaud Keystone

The arrival in western Switzerland of five large groups of Romanian gypsies has been blamed on a hardening of France's asylum policy.

This content was published on September 23, 2002 - 19:17

Officials say that more than 400 Roma have asked for asylum in Switzerland in the past two months.

In the space of a fortnight, 255 Romanian gypsies in five groups, including 112 children, have been dumped in canton Vaud.

They reportedly paid €100 per person, or €500 (SFr730) for a family to be smuggled into Switzerland.

The latest group of 77 people were found in Crissier on Tuesday morning, three days after two similar groups were discovered in the town and near Moudon.

Monday saw the arrival of 43 Roma gypsies in Brassus, in the Vallée de Joux. On September 13, 46 people were intercepted in Renens, just west of Lausanne.

The Swiss authorities announced on Tuesday that they would be holding "informal talks" with their Romanian counterparts within the next few days to discuss the situation.

New trafficking network

The authorities believe the arrival in the same canton of so many people from the same place of origin is no coincidence. They say it points to a worrying new people-trafficking network.

But these five groups tell only part of the story. The Federal Office for Refugees told swissinfo that 140 Romanian gypsies had applied for asylum in August, and 120 in the first fortnight of September.

The latest discoveries bring the running total for the past two months to more than 400 people.

In September, Romanians will for the first time form the biggest group of asylum-seekers.

The federal asylum-processing centre at Vallorbe - one of four in the country and the only one on French-speaking territory - has been unable to accept all of the Roma.

Once they have been registered, the most recent groups to be discovered are to be transferred to another reception centre in Chiasso, in canton Ticino, where a civil protection shelter has been converted to accommodate them.

Sarkozy's stance

The Swiss federal authorities are in no doubt that this dramatic influx is a direct result of French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to adopt a tougher stance on Romanian gypsies.

"I think there is definitely a link," says Dominique Boillat, spokesman for the Federal Refugee Office.

"As soon as France took its measures, we immediately noticed small groups arriving in Switzerland."

"The Roma in Romania are fairly well informed about the asylum procedures in various European countries," says Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman of the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration.

"One of the reasons they are coming to Switzerland is because they know France is toughening up its asylum procedures concerning this particular group."

He recalls that there was a similar situation a couple of years ago, when hundreds of Roma flocked to Finland, forcing the Finns to introduce a raft of measures, including reintegration packages for failed asylum-seekers and staging asylum appeals in the country of origin.

Slow progress

The Vaud cantonal police say their investigations are proceeding "very slowly".

They admit they have no clues as to the identities of the people-smugglers and have issued an appeal for information.

They also say it has been proving difficult to establish common elements in the four cases, since the groups have given different versions of how they ended up in Switzerland.

"At the moment it is difficult to state with certainty the route they have taken, since they were shut away in sealed lorry containers," he told swissinfo.

"One group claims to have come directly from Romania, another from Austria and a third from Italy, via France."

Romania "safe"

If mystery surrounds their journey to Switzerland, their fate is virtually certain. None are likely to be granted asylum status.

"The federal government considers Romania to be a safe country. That doesn't mean everything there is perfect, but for asylum purposes, it is considered to be safe," says Boillat.

The question of where the Roma will be expelled to remains open to question. Switzerland is looking into sending them to a third country - most probably France. But if that fails, they will be sent back to Romania.

A decision on the group found in Renens is expected within ten to 12 days, Boillat told swissinfo.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy says illegal migration stems from the fact that there are few ways for poor or marginalized people who want to leave their country to do so legally.

Even if the chances of the Roma winning political asylum in Switzerland are slim, it will not prevent other desperate, disadvantaged and impoverished people trying their luck.

"Unemployment rates for Roma are incredibly high. They say they are considered to be second-class citizens. These are fairly strong factors pushing them to leave," says Chauzy.

swissinfo, Roy Probert in Geneva

Asylum facts

Five groups of Romanian gypsies have been trafficked into Switzerland in the past fortnight.
Police suspect a new trafficking network is responsible.
The gypsies say they paid €500 to be brought to Switzerland.
All have applied for asylum.

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