Illegal immigrants given ultimatum to leave church in Fribourg

Immigrants in Fribourg say they are staying put Keystone

A group of 84 illegal immigrants has been given an ultimatum to leave the church they have been occupying for the past 11 weeks in Fribourg by 11am on Friday. The local prefect, Nicolas Deiss, said in a statement that he would call on the police to forcibly remove the group if they had not vacated the building by the stated deadline.

This content was published on August 23, 2001 - 15:00

Gäetan Zurkinden, a coordinator of the movement backing the Fribourg collective, told swissinfo the group had no intention of leaving.

"Following the threat of imminent police intervention," Zurkinden said, "we have moved to the hall underneath the church, but we have no intention of abandoning our protest."

The Association Against Racism in French-speaking Switzerland has called on the authorities not to deport the immigrants protesting inside the church.

Earlier, the canton of Fribourg refused to offer blanket amnesty to the 84 immigrants occupying the Parish church.

The justice minister, Ruth Metzler, had said a difficult situation did not give automatic right to residency. However, this did not mean that the government lacked humanity, she added.

Metzler had also emphasised that the cantons were responsible for applying the law and threw the political hot potato back to them.

The cantonal government of Fribourg had asked the federal government to find a collective solution for a total of 36 immigrants, 21 of which are among the group of foreigners, who have made Saint-Paul's church their home for over two months.

The foreigners had already been given an eviction deadline on Monday, however, instead of leaving, they unfurled a banner with the words "We're here to stay" at a press conference.

The head of the cantonal government, Claude Grandjean, assured the public on Wednesday that there would not be any "human hunting". He said he could not imagine that the immigrants would actually be physically removed from the church. "They must have gone there for a reason," he said.

The 36 immigrants who might be given the right to stay in Switzerland have been selected according to certain criteria worked out by the canton of Fribourg and the federal government. They are mainly hardcore cases or people who have been living in Switzerland for many years and are well integrated.

Fourteen nationalities are represented in the Fribourg collective, which includes people who were given temporary asylum in Switzerland or granted seasonal work permits, but whose documentation has expired. Most of them have lived here for many years.

There are an estimated 300,000 illegal workers in Switzerland, mainly working in agriculture, the construction sector and restaurants.

swissinfo with agencies

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