Switzerland’s detention policy on minors seeking asylum is inconsistent and opaque with continued “serious and repeated” violations of national and international law, a Swiss non-governmental organisation warns.
At least eight cantons – Bern, Zurich, Valais, Aargau, St Gallen, Solothurn, Thurgau and Lucerne - detained 40 minors for immigration status-related reasons between 2015 and 2017, according to an in-depth Terre des hommes reportexternal link.
“In some cases, the best interests of the child are effectively taken into account; in others, there are still serious and repeated violations of national and international law,” it said.
Terre des hommes reminded that separating families and/or locking up minors under the age of 15 with their parents is “unacceptable and illegal” under Swiss law, and contrary to Switzerland’s international commitments, such as to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The NGO warned of the harmful effects of detention on the physical and psychological health of children and denounced the criminalisation of migrant children “simply because of their status”.
Last year, 733 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in Switzerland, down from 2,736 in 2015. Around 60% were aged 16-17; 36% were aged 13-15. The majority were boys from Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, Guinea and Syria. Last year some 5,000 unaccompanied minors were living in the Alpine country.
The authors of the 112-page report said an “alarming” number of young migrants continued to disappear in Switzerland.
Major data gaps
The NGO also criticised the authorities’ lack of oversight and collection of data. It said it was particularly “shocked” that most cantons were unable to say how many minors under the age of 15 had been detained during the reporting period and that the federal authorities did not have a proper overview.
The authors lamented major disparities between figures provided by the cantons and the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), which had recorded around 100 detained minors for the same 2015-2017 period. It said the quality of the statistics was “unsatisfactory”, with gaps and errors.
SEM spokesperson Emmanuelle Jaquet rejected the Terre des hommes’ criticism: "After having examined whether coercive measures [used in Switzerland] conform with the rights of the child, the Federal Council felt that the guarantees conferred by this convention were respected,” she told Swiss public radio, RTS. “The legal requirements in Switzerland that govern this decision and the review of detention conform with international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
Switzerland has been criticised in the past for its asylum procedures regarding unaccompanied minors. Last year, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said unaccompanied minors who had fled to Switzerland without their relatives should benefit from welcome centres that are properly adapted to their age and protection needs. Terre de hommes also reported that in several cantons, minors were still sharing premises with adults. It urged the authorities to detain children separately for their own protection and to preserve children’s rights.
The number of people seeking asylum in Switzerland continues to fall. Between January-November 2018, a total of 14,230 requests were lodged – down 16% compared to the same period last year. At the recent peak in 2015, 39,523 asylum requests were made.