Man sets himself on fire to protest asylum conditions

Scorch marks on the concrete square in front of the Swiss parliament. Keystone / Anthony Anex

A man set fire to himself on Monday in front of the Swiss parliament to protest against conditions in asylum centres in canton Bern. His injuries are not life-threatening.

This content was published on July 20, 2020 - 18:40
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He was taking part in a demonstration organised by the “Stopp Isolation” group, who say that new asylum return centres in canton Bern are like “open prisons, on the edge of society”.

Bern police confirmed that the man – who onlookers said was an Iranian who had been denied asylum in Switzerland – had set fire to himself, but did not risk fatal injuries.

A video carried by a local television station showed the man being suddenly engulfed by a blaze, before running towards the edge of parliament square with more modest flames on parts of his clothes. Several others who had seen this happen ran after to help put out the fire.

Members of the Stopp Isolation group had met with cantonal and national migration authorities last month to complain about conditions in three new centres to house rejected asylum seekers.

Their dissatisfaction had previously led to an overnight sit-in by around 60 of the asylum seekers in the Reitschule alternative cultural centre in Bern.

Last Friday, authorities wrote a letter to the group backing the “democratically legitimate” handling of the asylum centres, a response which sparked Monday’s demonstration.

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