Fears that rejected asylum seekers would be driven underground by a decision to stop their welfare benefits have been confirmed.
A government report has revealed that most of the 1,478 applicants refused entry between April 1 and July 31 have disappeared.
The government suspended welfare payments for rejected asylum seekers on April 1 this year.
Officials said at the time that the move would deter bogus asylum seekers from coming to Switzerland and encourage rejected applicants to leave the country.
They said the risk that some failed applicants might go to ground were negligible.
But a report by the Federal Refugee Office says most of them are now staying illegally in Switzerland where they face escalating psychological and physical problems.
Spokesman Dominique Boillat said that of the 634 asylum seekers tracked by the Federal Refugee Office, only 11 had left the country.
He said the remainder were staying illegally and 534 had disappeared.
The authorities have also lost track of most of the 844 rejected asylum seekers registered with the cantons, noted the report.
It added that administrative workloads and costs associated with providing emergency aid had increased since April 1.
Jürg Schertenleib, spokesman for the non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council, told swissinfo that the decision to scrap benefits for rejected asylum seekers had backfired – as predicted.
He said Switzerland would see a tangible rise in crime and poverty over the next three years as a result.
“It’s a bad policy,” he said. “We have all these people still living here, and we have no idea how they are managing. In most cases it’s inhumane.”
Elmar Ledergerber, the mayor of Zurich, told swissinfo that the government had got it “completely wrong” when it decided to halt benefit payments.
“In short, the political decisions taken at a national level have created problems in cities and we are not at all happy about this,” he said.
Ledergerber said the federal authorities had essentially handed over responsibility for rejected asylum applicants to the towns and cities.
By law, the cantons still have to provide emergency aid.
“The impact has been exactly as we feared. Many of these people have not left the country but have just gone underground,” he said.
“They remain in our cities, and if they are really hungry or have problems, it is up to our social welfare services to help them.
“We have to abide by international human rights laws and cannot simply [turn our backs on] this obligation.”
Meanwhile, the foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, says Switzerland will “not abandon” hundreds of asylum seekers threatened with deportation.
Calmy-Rey made her comments in an interview in the Sunday edition of the newspaper, “Matin Dimanche”, a day after a demonstration by 1,500 people in Lausanne protesting the deportation.
The foreign minister said her department would start a “follow-up programme” to support the return of the more than 500 asylum seekers in canton Vaud to their countries of origin.
swissinfo, Elizabeth Meen and Katalin Fekete in Zurich
A report by the Federal Refugee Office says most of the 1,478 rejected asylum seekers have gone underground since their welfare benefits were suspended on April 1.
The Netherlands, which slashed welfare payments for asylum applicants, has seen higher crime and poverty rates. The Refugee Council says the same will happen in Switzerland.