Measures introduced three years ago to encourage failed asylum seekers to return home have proved successful, the Swiss authorities say.This content was published on September 7, 2007 - 12:00
Since April 2004 asylum seekers no longer have the right to welfare benefits if their application to stay in Switzerland has been turned down. But not all experts accept the latest findings.
The Swiss Federal Migration Office says in its third annual follow-up report on the issue, published on Thursday, that the measures have succeeded in persuading unsuccessful applicants to go home, and also reduced the number applying.
Other figures released by the Migration Office show that the number of asylum applications halved between the end of 2003 and the end of 2005 but remained stable in 2006.
However, Swiss experts say that the figures can be interpreted in different ways.
“It may well be that fewer asylum applications are being made, but we can’t really say whether this can be attributed to the stopping of welfare benefits,” Barbara Walther, head of Social Affairs and Migration Switzerland at Caritas, told swissinfo.
She pointed out that other European countries had also seen a decline in the number of asylum seekers. One major reason is the relative stability now prevailing in Kosovo, which means that its citizens are no longer fleeing abroad.
In the year of the study – from April 2006 to March 2007 – 1,606 asylum seekers lost their right to welfare benefits. Anyone who is refused these benefits is allowed under the Swiss constitution to claim emergency aid, worth about SFr10 ($8) a day.
The report says that since only about one third of failed asylum seekers are applying for emergency aid, this is evidence that the policy is working.
But this conclusion is not so clear-cut, says Walther, whose organisation is a member of the Swiss Refugee Council.
“The problem is that people don’t always know where they have to apply, and so they don’t register,” Walther pointed out. “Some cantons take their obligations more seriously than others.”
According to the report, fears that failed asylum seekers would go underground or turn to crime to support themselves have turned out to be unfounded.
“Given the very small number of persons held for committing offences, the danger to public safety can be regarded as minimal,” it says.
While Walther agreed that crime does not appear to be an issue among failed asylum seekers, she disputed the implication that two thirds of them had left the country.
“If they are not registered, we simply don’t know if they are still in Switzerland or not…,” she said.
“Some of them have certainly remained in Switzerland. Perhaps they are living with friends, or informally in asylum centres. But others have certainly left.”
swissinfo, Julia Slater with agencies
The number of asylum seekers reached an all-time high in 1999 with 48,000 applications. 30,100 from Serbia and Kosovo.
In 2004, when government assistance to asylum seekers was stopped, the number fell to 14,250 or nearly 7,000 fewer than the previous year.
In 2006 10,500 people sought asylum in Switzerland and 19.5% were accepted.
This year so far the greatest number of asylum applications has been submitted by Eritreans.
An asylum seeker's claim is considered unfounded if applicants do not reveal their identity, fail to hand in their papers or do not collaborate fully during application proceedings.
In 2004 the government suspended welfare payments for rejected asylum seekers.
Two years later, 68% of the electorate voted in favour of tightening asylum legislation even further.
The authorities are now allowed to keep rejected asylum seekers in detention centres until they are expelled.
It was the ninth time the law has been revised since 1984.
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