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Asylum centres close as applications fall

Asylum requests are expected to drop by around 30 per cent this year Keystone

A sharp drop in the number of asylum seekers has led to the closure of transit and accommodation centres across Switzerland and the loss of up to 300 jobs.

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher says he expects new asylum applications to fall even further in 2005, down from 14,000 last year to 10,000.

According to the Federal Migration Office, the number of people requesting asylum dropped by almost a third in 2004, reaching its lowest level for 17 years.

The implementation of tougher policies against asylum seekers in April last year is thought to have helped to drive down the statistics.

These measures include cutting off financial aid to people whose requests are rejected, speeding up the processing of applications and more deportations.

Earlier this month the Senate voted to tighten the asylum law even further, by extending the ban on welfare benefits to asylum seekers going through the appeals process.

By making the country less attractive to asylum seekers, the government has also slashed the workload of those processing claims and handling applicants.

Around 20 staff are to be axed at the Federal Migration Office and hundreds more face redundancy or have already lost their jobs across the country.

Job losses

The authorities in Zurich, which deals with the highest number of asylum seekers, shut more than a dozen centres last year leading to the loss of 120 jobs.

Canton Vaud in western Switzerland closed five asylum centres between the end of 2004 and February this year. The canton says it no longer needs 300 apartments set aside for asylum seekers. Eleven staff have lost their jobs as a result of the changes.

Hundreds of places for asylum seekers will disappear in Geneva between now and June, with further cuts expected if the number of requests continues to fall.

Pierre Dupasquier, who runs a number of asylum centres, said it was impossible to give a precise figure for job cuts, but he warned that auxiliary staff and those on short-term contracts would be the first to go.

More than 100 posts have been cut in cantons St Gallen, Aargau, Lucerne, Solothurn and Ticino, as a result of centres closing.

swissinfo with agencies

Since the scrapping financial aid for people whose asylum requests have been rejected, hundreds of asylum seekers are reported to have gone underground.

Earlier this month the Federal Court said asylum seekers whose requests had been ruled inadmissible and who refused to cooperate with the authorities were still eligible for emergency assistance.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR