The rightwing Swiss People's Party has handed in to the federal authorities a list of signatures on an initiative calling for foreign criminals to be deported.This content was published on February 15, 2008 - 13:37
The party said it had collected 210,770 signatures backing the automatic expulsion of foreigners convicted of crimes or engaged in welfare fraud. This is twice as many as is needed to force a nationwide vote on the issue.
The list of signatures was submitted on Friday and comes a day after the Federal Migration Office announced its priorities for 2008.
Authorities say they will be working towards integrating new immigrants more effectively and getting tough on lawbreakers and those who abuse welfare benefits.
The initiative proposed by the People's Party goes further, and is asking for the automatic deportation of foreigners who have been convicted of offences including murder, rape, robbery, human smuggling or drug trafficking.
The collection of signatures formed part of the party's "black sheep" election campaign last autumn. Party placards depicted white sheep booting their black counterpart out of the country.
The party launched the initiative on August 1 – Swiss National Day – by mailing a copy of the initiative to each household.
The campaign quickly attracted the ire of critics including the Federal Commission against Racism, Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities and the United Nations. The UN said it was likely to incite racial hatred.
"It is not racist," a party spokesman told swissinfo at the time. "We have a big problem with violence and in particular youth violence, and foreign criminals are a big factor."
The People's Party reported that it had collected 170,000 signatures by mid-October.
Under the Swiss constitution, campaigners have 18 months to collect at least 100,000 signatures from citizens to force a nationwide vote on a given issue. Now that the initiative has been submitted, the authorities will examine the signatures before moving ahead with a national referendum.
Constitutional lawyers have already warned that the proposed measures, if approved, would probably violate international law.
swissinfo with agencies
There has been much debate over crimes committed by foreigners, and by youth gangs in particular in Switzerland.
In early February, the murder of a young man at a Carnival event in the southern city of Locarno made national headlines. He was beaten to death by three foreign-born men.
According to the Federal Statistics office, 14,000 youths were convicted of crimes in 2005. Of these, 4,000 were foreign-born individuals.
The conviction rate for foreign juveniles is twice as high as that for Swiss youths.
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