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Gypsy influx prompts probe into trafficking network

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

Four groups of Romanian gypsies, totalling 178 people, have been smuggled into Switzerland in the past ten days.

This content was published on September 23, 2002 - 11:44

The cases, all in canton Vaud, point to a worrying new people-trafficking network.

In total 178 Roma, around half of them children, have been dumped in the western Swiss canton since September 13, when a first group of 46 people were uncovered in Renens, near Lausanne.

What at first appeared to be an isolated incident now seems to have been the start of a trend. In the past two days, three more groups have been found abandoned in different parts of canton Vaud.

Asylum request

Late on Saturday night, 50 people were found at Crissier, near the main Geneva-Lausanne motorway. A few hours later, 39 more were discovered in the village of Thierrens, in the north of the canton. Now, the latest group, consisting of 43 Roma, turned up in Brassus, in the Vallée de Joux.

While the first three groups were brought to Switzerland in trucks, the last group arrived in five cars.

All the clandestine immigrants have asked for political asylum.

The cantonal police have launched an appeal for information that might lead to the identification and arrest of the lorry drivers who smuggled in the Roma.

Slow progress

There is speculation that a hardening of France's asylum policies might have contributed to the influx, but the authorities are at a loss to explain why canton Vaud seems to be the chosen destination.

"If we knew the answer, we would have made far more progress with our investigation," said Guy-Charles Monney, a spokesman for the Vaud cantonal police. He admitted that enquiries were proceeding "very slowly".

He said it had been proving difficult to establish common elements in the four cases, since the groups gave different versions of how they ended up in Switzerland.

"At the moment it is difficult to state with certainty the route they took, 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."

Even if it is difficult to draw an obvious link between the four incidents, the arrival in the same canton of four large groups originating in the same place by a similar method raises the obvious conclusion that a new people-smuggling network has been created.

The arrival of such a large number of refugees in such a short space of time has posed considerable problems for the cantonal police and the civil protection force. Now the 177 Roma are the problem of the Federal Refugee Office.

Saturated

Canton Vaud is home to one of four federal asylum processing centres, and the only one in French-speaking Switzerland.

This facility, in Vallorbe, has already been filled to capacity - "saturated," as Monney put it - as a result of the two groups found over the weekend, so members of the Brassus group, once they have been registered, will be sent to reception centres elsewhere in Switzerland.

Those who have been interviewed say they paid €100 per person, or €500 (SFr731) for a family, to be taken to Switzerland. Two groups say they were "recruited" in the southern suburbs of Bucharest.

The Crissier group claimed to have come directly from Bucharest. But police suspect they - like those abandoned in Renens - may have come via France. The Thierrens group is understood to have arrived by way of the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Questions are sure to be asked about how, with people smuggling high on the European agenda, four large groups were allowed to be smuggled into Switzerland.

"Our borders are long and it is difficult to reach a situation where they are hermetically sealed," Monney said.

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

As an editorial in the local "24 Heures" daily put it before the discovery of the fourth group: "We're waiting for the next arrivals."

swissinfo, Roy Probert in Geneva

Asylum facts

Four groups of Romanian gypsies have been trafficked into Switzerland in ten days.
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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