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Cabinet says Ticino border fence not needed

Swiss border guards accompany an asylum seeker who entered Switzerland by train without papers and was captured at Chiasso station at the Swiss-Italian border Keystone

The Swiss government has rejected the idea of building a fence along its southern border near the town of Chiasso to stop migrants crossing over illegally from Italy.

This content was published on November 17, 2016 - 15:58 with agencies

A border fence is not needed, as most people who enter Switzerland illegally take the train from Italy, the government said in a written reply to a parliamentary question.

It said around 85% of illegal immigrants who enter via canton Ticino are intercepted at Chiasso station. Even during months with numerous arrivals, those people crossing on foot through the mountains and forests represent only 6.4% of the total, it added.

Heinz Brand, a parliamentarian from the conservative right Swiss People’s Party, had asked the government about the possibility of building a security barrier in the Chiasso region to ‘prevent illegal entries and to defend Switzerland against a massive influx of clandestine immigrants’.

This summer saw large numbers of migrants entering Switzerland via the south with many reportedly travelling on to northern Europe. Earlier this month, Swiss border guards reported 41,203 ‘irregular entries’ to Switzerland for the January and October period, compared with 31,038 for the whole of 2015. Since March, Ticino has seen the most cases: in October, 4,838 irregular controls were registered. August saw a peak of 7,640.

Trains, borders and stations

In its statement, the cabinet said that as well as carrying out checks on trains and at border crossing points and stations, border guards also used drones and helicopters to monitor the frontier region with Italy to detect and intercept illegal immigrants. Cameras also watch over certain footpaths. The government says this existing set-up is adequate.

It added that a border fence would be very expensive and that there is no clear legal basis to authorise its construction.

It said that on top of Swiss legislation, it must also take into account the European Union’s Schengen system, to which Switzerland has signed up. This guarantees individuals free uninterrupted movement across internal borders of the passport-free Schengen zone, it went on.

Several European countries have built barriers following waves of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence in the Middle East, North Africa and other regions in the past year. Austria built a 4 km (2.4 mile) barrier with a managed entry point on its border with Slovenia and it has said it will erect one at the Brenner crossing with Italy if needed. Hungary has also built a fence along its border with Serbia, and Balkan countries have introduced border restrictions. Budapest has also built a fence along its border with non-EU member Serbia.

In its written reply, the Swiss government said an ad hoc decree could be drawn up to permit the construction of a barrier if the state of affairs quickly worsened and seriously threatened the internal situation in Switzerland.

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