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Government toughens line on African asylum seekers

Asylum applications from Africans have soared this year


Switzerland is speeding up asylum procedures for applicants from Africa in the face of an influx of asylum seekers from the continent.

The move comes ahead of a nationwide vote next month on tightening the asylum law.

The justice minister, Ruth Metzler, ordered the Federal Refugee Office to give priority to processing applications from asylum seekers from the African countries of Nigeria, Angola, Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She also ordered the speedy deportation of African asylum seekers convicted of crimes, and those whose behaviour is deemed "anti-social".

Dominique Boillat, spokesman for the Federal Refugee Office, denied the government was singling out Africans.

He told swissinfo that the purpose of the new system was to identify early on whether an asylum request was patently false or should be taken further.

"[Some] people just use the asylum system to gain access to the country to sell drugs... so we had to take special measures to identify these people during the registration period instead of waiting months and months while we process their applications."

The Swiss Refugee Council welcomed the government's new initiative which should help tackle the problem of trafficking.

"There are now increased efforts undertaken to fight organised crime which for us is the source of the problem," spokeswoman Susanne Bolz told swissinfo.

"Many of them are young unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Switzerland and for sure they are only the small fish. The problem lies with the organisers of drug trafficking and most probably none of those minors would have made it to Switzerland were it not for the human or drug traffickers bringing them here."

Boillat said that the tougher new measures had nothing to do with next month's vote on the asylum law.

There have been suggestions that the government, which opposes changing the law, is trying to demonstrate the efficacy of the existing system to persuade voters to reject a proposal by the right-wing People's Party to tighten the law.

Big increase

Metzler's announcement followed a report from the refugee office detailing a big increase in the number of immigrants from western Africa.

For the past ten years between 2,500 and 5,500 Africans have applied for asylum annually in Switzerland. But the number has exceeded that level in 2002.

Under the new procedures the identity, age and origin of asylum seekers from African countries will be established while they are in the reception centres.

Special planes may be chartered to deport unsuccessful applicants.

Criminal element

The head of the federal refugee office, Jean-Daniel Gerber, said the measures were aimed at removing the criminal element.

He said the crime rate was higher among black African asylum seekers in Switzerland, and around ten per cent of them were active on the drugs market.


Asylum facts

Priority will be given to applications from asylum seekers from some African countries.
Deportations of African asylum seekers convicted of crimes will be speeded up.
The number of African asylum seekers has risen sharply this year.
In November, the Swiss will vote on whether to tighten the asylum laws.

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