Government defends tougher Swiss asylum law
Justice Minister Christoph Blocher says tighter regulations are needed to prevent abuses of the asylum system and preserve Switzerland's humanitarian tradition.
His comments marked the launch of the government's campaign ahead of a nationwide vote on September 24.
A coalition of centre-left political parties, humanitarian groups and churches has challenged the amended asylum law and foreigners legislation, which parliament approved in December.
The regulations foresee that rejected asylum seekers no longer qualify for welfare payments, and that the maximum detention for those awaiting deportation is raised to 18 months.
Blocher said on Monday the new asylum regulations would make Switzerland less attractive for illegal immigrants, human traffickers and criminals.
The head of the Federal Migration Office, Eduard Gnesa, rejected allegations that refugees without identity papers would be excluded from the asylum procedure.
He said the rules were in line with basic human rights and international commitments.
Blocher also said a tightening of the foreigners law was necessary to ensure the controlled influx of foreign labour. He added the new regulations made integration easier.
The new law favours nationals from member states of the European Union and European Free Trade Association and limits the immigration of those from other countries.
The government's stance is generally supported by cantonal authorities.
But the charity Terre des Hommes has warned that both laws go against the rights of children.
The group says most children who apply for asylum in Switzerland would be forced to go underground as a result of the tighter regulations.
Switzerland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and brought it into force in 1997.
Terre des Hommes is among several charities and humanitarian organisations to criticise the new asylum and foreigner legislation.
Their vocal campaign against the regulations is supported by a number of personalities such as the former interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss.
Last year the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, voiced concern about moves to introduce a more restrictive asylum law.
swissinfo with agencies
The new law on foreigners favours EU and Efta nationals and limits the migration of non-European and unqualified workers.
The migration of family members also becomes harder.
Under the asylum law, asylum seekers no longer receive social welfare payments and the maximum detention for foreigners awaiting deportation has been raised to 18 months.
The granting of admission on humanitarian grounds has been ruled out. But it has been made easier for those granted asylum to be joined by their families and to work.
Both laws were approved by parliament last December, but have been challenged to a nationwide referendum by centre-left parties, church groups and aid organisations, to be held in September.
The number of asylum requests has decreased over the past years.
In 2005 there were 10,061 requests, a drop of 30% from 2004, and the lowest number since 1986.
Just under 95,000 foreigners (including 993 recognised refugees) migrated to Switzerland last year, slightly less than in 2004.
Foreigners constitute more than 20 per cent of the Swiss population (over seven million people).
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