Voters still divided over harsher asylum law

Thousands of demonstrators march through Bern in June, opposed to the new law Keystone Archive

Around 43 per cent of the electorate are in favour of tightening Switzerland's asylum law, according to a poll commissioned by Sunday newspapers.

This content was published on August 13, 2006 - 12:31

The new law, which cuts benefits for asylum seekers, comes to a nationwide vote on September 24, along with new legislation on immigration.

Thirty per cent of voters are opposed to tightening the existing legislation on asylum and 27 per cent are still undecided.

The poll, conducted by the Swiss Institute of Public Opinion and Market Research, Isopublic, found a large divide between the sexes, with 55 per cent of men in favour but only 32 per cent of women.

The new law was approved by parliament last December, but will be decided in the September referendum after being successfully challenged by centre-left parties, church groups and aid organisations.

They are opposed to the stricter measures including the cutting of social welfare payments to asylum seekers and the raising of the maximum detention for foreigners awaiting deportation to 18 months.

The plan also rules out the granting of admission to asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds, but will make it easier for those accepted to work and to be joined by their families.

Isopublic said more than half of the people questioned agreed with the plan to provide only food and lodging for asylum seekers, doing away with all social welfare benefits.

But fewer - only 45 per cent - thought it just that asylum seekers without identification papers would no longer be entitled to have their case heard.

The polling institute also said voters claiming to be well informed about the issues tended to be in favour of the revised law.

Asked whether Switzerland's humanitarian traditions – as the depository state of the Geneva Conventions and where the Red Cross movement was founded – would be endangered if the asylum law is accepted, 49 per cent said no.

Law on foreigners

Also to be voted on in September will be a revision to Switzerland's immigration law, called the Foreigners National Act.

It is aimed at regulating the admission and residence of non-European Union and European Free Trade Association (Efta) nationals who are not asylum-seekers.

The committee opposed to the change have argued that the needs of the economy could not be met if non-European and unqualified workers were excluded from Switzerland, and it would force these workers to become asylum seekers or to go underground.

The rightwing Swiss People's Party, which is spearheading the campaign in favour of tightening both the asylum and immigration laws, says the changes will prevent abuses of the system.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

In 2005 there were 10,061 requests, a drop of 30% from 2004, and the lowest number since 1986.
Just under 95,000 foreigners (including 993 recognised refugees) migrated to Switzerland last year, slightly less than in 2004.
The Isopublic poll was commissioned by the Sunday newspapers, Sonntags Blick and Le Matin Dimanche.

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