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Swiss asylum centres almost at maximum capacity

Federal asylum centres are reaching their limits due to the coronavirus pandemic and the increase in applications.  

Switzerland has approximately 4,400 places in asylum centres across the country. Due to the pandemic, hygiene and distancing measures had to be taken which has meant the number of available places has halved, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) said in a statement on Thursday. 

Asylum applications have also risen again in recent weeks. The occupancy rate in the centres now stands at over 90%. The migration office has had to repurpose a car service centre in the northern Swiss town of Brugg to meet demand. A maximum of 230 asylum seekers can be housed there from November 30.  

Further accommodation places are being prepared in two other locations, Sulgen and Reinach. However, the SEM believes that they will not be enough and has requested the support of the cantons. 

Despite the preventive measures taken, around 160 asylum seekers have tested positive for Covid-19 so far. However, no infections have occurred during the hearings, which have continued with some adjustments. 

The number of participants in the hearings has been reduced. While applicants and their legal representatives are required to be physically present, all others involved participate virtually. The appeal periods have been extended to ensure that adequate legal protection is provided in each case. 

Pending cases 

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, the SEM has conducted more than 3,600 hearings and processed 10,500 asylum claims. The deportation of failed asylum seekers also continued despite restrictions, particularly with regard to air traffic. Special flights were organised for involuntary repatriations, but also for voluntary ones to Georgia, Albania and Moldova. Repatriations are again possible to almost all Dublin states. The number of pending deportation cases has thus remained almost stable. 

According to SEM, a small minority of asylum seekers have taken advantage of the asylum system for criminal purposes. Patrols around the asylum centres have therefore been stepped up. Unjustified asylum applications are treated as a priority to ensure such people leave Switzerland quickly.  

This year Switzerland has received 53 unaccompanied minors from Greece with family ties in Switzerland. Thirty more are expected to follow.