Should asylum procedures once again be reformed?
Voters on Sunday will decide whether to speed up asylum procedures in Switzerland. Proponents say the reforms will make the system fairer for all, but rightwing politicians disagree.
Swiss voters are being asked whether they back a legal amendment, which was passed by parliament last year but challenged by the conservative right Swiss People’s Party.
Under the reform, most asylum requests should be decided within 140 days of being submitted, including time for appeals - compared with the 400 days at present. Most of the simpler asylum cases will be dealt with in new bigger federal reception centres that can take up to 5,000 people. Asylum seekers will be also be granted free legal aid.
In a trial run of the new system, held in 2014 in a centre in Zurich, it was found that the process was 39% shorter and the number of appeals was reduced by 33%. The number of voluntary repatriations tripled.
The government says these changes will cost CHF500 million ($506 million) but in the medium-term should actually save over CHF200 million a year.
The June vote presents an unusual scenario: it is the first time an amendment to Swiss asylum legislation is supported by the left and opposed by the right.
While the amendment was backed by all major parties last September, it was rejected by the People’s Party which launched a referendum to oppose it and collected 65,000 signatures.
The People’s Party maintains that the asylum changes would be unhelpful and counterproductive. In an interview with swissinfo.ch, Albert Rösti, a member of parliament and the new president of the People’s Party, argued that proposals to accelerate asylum procedures and offer free legal advice would only encourage undeserving applicants to come to Switzerland.
Supporters of the reforms, however, say legal representation is essential and should reduce the number of appeals.
The People’s Party also objects to measures that would allow the government to locate new refugee centres in federal buildings and sites without getting the prior approval of the cantons or local councils involved.
In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, opponents have found it hard convincing voters and arguments about making the asylum system more efficient have been hard to counter.
On May 25, a poll carried out by the GfS Bern research and polling institute, suggested that 60% of voters would back the reform. Only 29% would reject it, while 11% were undecided.
Meanwhile, asylum requests in Switzerland drastically declined in the first quarter of 2016, with 45% fewer registered than at the end of 2015. Migration authorities attribute the slide to fewer people attempting to reach Europe over the so-called Balkan route.
However, longer-term figures tell a different story – overall asylum requests have increased by 85% compared with one year ago. A report from the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) describes the situation as “difficult to predict” and said that federal and cantonal governments must still be prepared for a renewed increase in asylum seekers in the coming months.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives agreed to boost spending on asylum seekers more than planned this year by CHF353 million. This increase reflects the pressure that waves of migrants from the Middle East and other conflict zones are exerting.
The original 2016 budget assumed Switzerland would get 26,000 new asylum requests in 2015 and 30,000 cases would be decided. In fact, nearly 39,500 people sought asylum, meaning more money is needed now for social assistance and shelter.
Migration Asylum requests in Switzerland accounted for 3% of the total number in Europe last year – the lowest figure in 20 years. In 2012, the Swiss share was 8.2%. Compared with the number of residents in Switzerland (8.2 million), the country was among the top seven destinations.In 2015, 4.9 requests per 1,000 Swiss residents were lodged, while the European average is 2.9 requests per 1,000 residents.
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