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Tougher asylum law in effect from January

There were 30 per cent fewer people seeking asylum last year

(Keystone)

The government has decided to introduce key elements of a tougher asylum law from January 1, 2007.

The new law was approved in a nationwide vote less than two months ago. The cabinet argued at the time that harsher measures were necessary to prevent abuses and avoid social tension.

At the start of next year, illegal immigrants and rejected asylum seekers can be jailed for up to two years pending deportation – a doubling of the current length.

Also as of January 1, applications of asylum seekers failing to produce either a passport or identification card without a credible reason will be automatically turned down.

It was mainly this tightening of the law which received so much criticism from a coalition of centre-left parties, trade unions, churches and aid organisations who forced the September vote.

They argued that the reforms went against Switzerland's humanitarian tradition.

The United Nations Refugee Agency has also been critical of the new asylum legislation, calling it among the toughest in Europe.

However, the new law also aims to improve the plight of recognised refugees. Those who have received so-called "temporary asylum" are entitled to work permits. And after three years, they have the right to bring their families to Switzerland so long as they are not dependent on welfare.

The cantons will also be permitted to provide food and temporary lodging for people who have been in the country at least four years and are still waiting for their case to be decided.

The cabinet said on Wednesday that the other changes to the asylum law – the loss of the right to social security benefits and reduction of the amount of emergency aid – will come into effect one year later on January 1, 2008.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Almost 68% of voters approved a tightening of the asylum law in September.

It was the ninth time since 1984 that Switzerland's asylum law has been amended. Five of the proposals to tighten the regulations were approved in nationwide votes.

There were 10,061 asylum applications in Switzerland last year, a 30 per cent drop compared with figures from 2004, according to the UN refugee agency.

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