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Right to schooling Move to denounce undocumented students causes outcry

Pupils during a sports lesson

Undocumented or not? Schools make no difference

(Keystone)

A group of right-leaning politicians in Switzerland is calling for schools to inform the authorities if they have illegal immigrants among their pupils. The move is causing consternation, not only among teaching staff.

The House of Representatives’ Social Security and Health Committeeexternal link submitted a motionexternal link at the end of January calling for “facilitating the exchange of information between state bodies for people whose residency status is not settled (for example, for education…)”.

Committee member Raymond Clottu told public service radio RTSexternal link on Monday that it should be possible “in any given region, to be at least informed of how many undocumented pupils are in the compulsory school. It’s not about getting personal data as such, but having data to gain transparency, especially on the costs.”

This is despite the fact that in a brochureexternal link aimed at migrants, Switzerland’s largest union Unia and the Swiss Refugee Council make it clear that schools and teachers are not allowed to pass on information to the police. The text also encourages parents to confide in teachers, saying they are “people of trust, who almost always have sympathy for the difficult situation facing children of undocumented migrants”.

Protest

The motion has already caused an outcry. Emilie Graff, deputy director of the Federal Commission on Child and Youth Affairsexternal link, told RTS that parents may no longer send their children to school, or could blame the child if they are reported and deported.

Samuel Rohrbach, head of the Union of French-speaking Teachers in Switzerlandexternal link, said that all children had a right to go to school. He also told RTS that he did not want to see teaching staff put under pressure to report their pupils.

The motion – which also covers wider issues such as stopping social benefits for undocumented migrants - is nevertheless opposed by eight parliamentarians on the Committee (it is supported by 25). It is currently being reviewed by the government. The political left has already announced that it will oppose the motion most forcefully during parliamentary debates.

There are no official statistics, but it is estimated by the Swiss Refugee Council that there are 90,000-250,000 illegal immigrants in Switzerland – including a sizeable proportion of children.

It is not the first time that the political right has targeted schools over illegal immigrants. In 2013, controversial politician Oskar Freysinger took over the education reins in canton Valais. One of his first moves was to forbid illegal immigrants from going to school and compel teachers to denounce them. The conservative right People’s Party politician was subsequently forced to backtrack by his colleagues from other French-speaking cantons.

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