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Switzerland - last hope for asylum seekers

Switzerland could be faced with an influx of asylum seekers after a new system of identifying applicants comes into force across the European Union on Wednesday.

This content was published on January 15, 2003 - 08:10

Eurodac is the first European information system comparing fingerprints of asylum applicants and illegal immigrants.

It is being adopted by all signatories to the Dublin convention on asylum to identify asylum seekers who have already lodged applications with an EU member state.

The aim is to prevent asylum seekers from lodging applications in more than one EU country.

The introduction of Eurodac will mean that Switzerland, which is not a signatory to the Dublin convention, is the only western European country open to an asylum seeker who has had his application rejected by an EU country.

Although unsure what impact the move will have on Switzerland, the authorities in Bern fear that applications for asylum in the country could soar in the months following Eurodac's introduction.

However, the Federal Refugee Office believes that estimates of 10,000 extra applications a year are exaggerated.

Swiss isolation

Spokesman Dominique Boillat says the problem for Switzerland is not the Eurodac system itself, but the determination of the 15 EU member states to unify their asylum procedures.

According to Boillat, "a greater danger" is the fact that the introduction of the new policy leaves Switzerland isolated.

As of Wednesday any foreigner aged 14 plus who enters the territory of the EU illegally will have to submit to fingerprinting. The resulting print will enable local authorities to ascertain if that person has already filed an application for asylum elsewhere in the EU.

In the event that an application has already been filed, the asylum seeker will be sent back to the country that originally received him.

The fingerprint information will be kept on record for a period of ten years.

The introduction of Eurodac may strengthen the case for Switzerland to sign up to Dublin and to the Schengen agreement on judicial and police cooperation. The country is still locked in negotiations with the EU on closer cooperation on a range of issues.

In the meantime, Boillat says, Switzerland will continue to cooperate with the EU on a case-by-case basis.

swissinfo, Barbara Speziali in Brussels

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