Metzler rules out political solution to immigrant occupation of church

Four-year-old Arbresh from Albania plays with his cars as his parents talk about their sit-in at St Paul's church in Fribourg Keystone Archive

The Swiss Justice minister, Ruth Metzler, has ruled out a political solution to end the occupation of two churches by immigrants in French-speaking Switzerland.

This content was published on June 11, 2001 - 16:36

Two separate groups of immigrants have been occupying St. Paul's Church in Fribourg and the Bellevaux church in Lausanne for more than a week in a bid to win the right to remain in Switzerland.

The groups include immigrants from Africa, South America, the Balkans and the European Union.

In an address to the House of Representatives on Monday, Metzler said the cabinet understood the problems faced by the immigrants but said it could not authorise papers permitting them to stay in Switzerland.

Such a move, Metzler said, would be unfair to other foreigners applying for work permits and permanent residency.

She added that it would also send out the wrong message to refugees wanting to enter Switzerland.

The Fribourg sit-in was organised by the Swiss Immigration Contact Centre, or SICC, which said the protestors include asylum seekers, as well as people who were legitimately employed in Switzerland, but had lost their legal status.

The secretary of the Fribourg-based group, Gaétan Zurkinden, told swissinfo, "Many people came as refugees but didn't get the necessary documentation to stay. There are also some people who sought work illegally in Switzerland, as well as people who came as students and no longer have the right to stay.

Zurkinden said the demonstrators are all victims of Switzerland's restrictive immigration policies, which he believes "are the most complicated in Europe". He added that immigrants "can often live in Switzerland for up to 10 years and then be stripped of their working and living permits".

The SICC said it organised the Fribourg sit-in to challenge Swiss immigration laws and to encourage immigrants in other areas of Switzerland to join the movement "to allow people to live and work wherever they want".

For their part, the Fribourg group of immigrants said they will stay where they are and that they have no intention of moving their sit-in to another church.

Dominique Boillat, a spokesman for Federal Refugee Office, said the government's main challenge is to identify true asylum seekers from people who simply want to work in Switzerland.

"These people are not only asylum seekers," Boillat told swissinfo, "a lot of people taking part in this movement are just here to work illegally. They are foreigners without visas and they have nothing to do with asylum."

Boillat said the Federal Refugee Office would attempt to identify true asylum seekers, taking part in the protest, through a special procedure, which is very different to a work permit or visa application.

"Switzerland has a rather restrictive immigration system and every year we allow a certain number of people to come enter the country and work. These people get work permits, but we have no way of giving permits to all of them."

According to government figures there are 150,000 immigrants in Switzerland, who have no visas, work permits or residency papers.

swissinfo with agencies

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