Asylum seekers in Switzerland need more protection experts say

This federal asylum centre in Boudry was one of several inspected in 2019 and 2020. © Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Federal asylum centres must do more to protect asylum seekers from violence and improve training for security personnel, says a government advisory group. 

This content was published on January 18, 2021 - 16:03

During monitoring visits in 2019 and 2020, the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) repeatedly found that conflict was part of everyday life in eight federal asylum centres – and that it sometimes escalated into violence. 

In a report on asylum accommodation published on MondayExternal link, the commission noted that the conflicts occurred in both directions, either starting with asylum seekers against staff or vice versa. 

Commission representatives saw security staff physically restraining asylum seekers, taking them to “reflection rooms” or using pepper spray on them. Several monitors described the handling as inappropriate. Accordingly, a number of asylum seekers have initiated criminal proceedings against security staff. 

The NCPT therefore recommends that the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), the body responsible for the centres, examine what changes need to be made to reduce violence. In addition, it suggests that the contracted security companies recruit personnel who are specifically trained for asylum centre operations. 

Vulnerable people 

The commission also finds that vulnerable asylum seekers are not sufficiently well identified. This could include people who have been victims of torture, human trafficking, or sexual, psychological and physical abuse. In addition, the roles of the various employees or external actors and the processes are unclear. Employees need to know where and what to report in such situations.

The SEM plans to introduce relevant guidelines by spring 2021. The commission recommends that these explicitly address the recognition, identification, support and protection of such persons.

The report also urges better protection of women in asylum centres against gender-specific violence. The NCPT recommends that all asylum centres have rooms where women can meet without men. Those affected should also be informed about their legal options and, if necessary, referred to legally prescribed agencies. 

In the view of the commission, more must also be done for people with mental health problems. At present, due to the limited length of stay in the centres, people don't receive treatment until assigned to a canton. However, the NCPT recommends that, if possible, mentally disturbed and traumatised people should be offered appropriate support while they are still in a federal centre. 

Eight centres 

Apart from certain potential for improvement, the accommodation for asylum seekers conforms in principle to human rights standards. The commission is particularly pleased that asylum centres have introduced primary education for children and adolescents. 

In addition, the addiction counselling service introduced at the centre in Kreuzlingen is “exemplary” and has calmed the situation in that shelter. The NCPT therefore recommends that the SEM introduce comparable solutions in the other centres.  

Between January 2019 and July 2020, the NCPT visited the federal asylum centres of Boudry, Kappelen, Kreuzlingen, Geneva Airport, Hall 9 Oerlikon in Zurich and the Ticino centres of Balerna, Chiasso and “Via Motta”. 

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