Swiss to vote on toughening stance on foreigners
Switzerland will decide Sunday whether to toughen its stance against foreign residents by automatically expelling those convicted of certain serious crimes.
The vote forced by the far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) under the country's unique direct democracy comes a year after the country shocked the world by banning the construction of new minarets, and has sparked a bitter debate among the population.
Proponents of the initiative say their argument is straightforward -- foreigners welcomed into this country who have misbehaved should be stripped of their right to stay.
But opponents say the initiative smacks of discrimination, and that it goes in the same xenophobic vein as that of the minaret.
At the moment, the Swiss appear to be prepared to accept the proposal, with the latest polls indicating that 54 percent are in favour, and 43 against. The undecided make up just three percent.
"It's very simple, we think that people we welcome in Switzerland should respect the rules of this country. If they don't respect these rules, they should be going away and expelled from our territory," Fabrice Moscheni, president of the SVP in canton Vaud, told AFP.
"If you welcome somebody to your house, and he comes and destroys everything, I don't think you want him to come back," he added.
While there is already a provision allowing judges to issue expulsion orders for foreign criminals, the proposal goes further by requiring automatic expulsions for those found guilty of "rape, serious sexual offence, acts of violence such as robbery," drug trafficking, as well as "abuse of social aid."
According to the Federal Office of Migration, some 350 to 400 people are expelled every year, but if the initiative is adopted, this figure would rise to 1,500.
The SVP, the country's biggest political party, has mounted an aggressive advertising campaign on the issue, including a poster which shows a white sheep kicking a black sheep out of the Swiss flag.
Another poster depicts a mafia-like man with the slogan "Ivan S., rapist, and soon a Swiss?"
Entrepreneur Guillaume Morand described these posters as "Nazi posters of the 1930s."
Morand, who is against the proposal, has funded his own advertising campaign to counter the SVP's, notably with a poster reading "We are all foreign criminals."
"The concept of the campaign is to show the absurdity of associating the word 'foreigner' with 'criminal'. Switzerland has the largest percentage of foreigners in Europe of over 20 percent.
"Foreigners are very very well integrated. Anyway there are already laws for expulsion. So to create in the constitution an automatic expulsion for any offence is completely discriminatory. It creates a two-speed justice system," he told AFP.
The Socialist Party and Amnesty International have meanwhile noted that the initiative is against international conventions, as it could see refugees being sent back to their home countries where they risk being tortured or even killed.
The government has also opposed the proposal, and instead made a counter offer with a list of violent crimes, with expulsion to be judged on a case by case basis. The Swiss population will also get to vote on the counter offer.
For Geneva University professor Pascal Sciarini, the latest referendum demonstrates that "Switzerland is becoming more conservative, nationalist, and maybe more xenophobic than before."
© 2010 AFP