UN refugee agency opposes proposed Swiss initiative restricting refugee rights

Describing it as impractical and counterproductive, the United Nations refugee agency today said a new initiative in Switzerland would transform the country’s asylum system into the most restrictive in all of Europe if voted into law later this month. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, said in a statement that the initiative was fraught with dangers, and described its emphasis on the need to prevent drug trafficking as “highly misleading.”The initiative was put forward by one of Switzerland’s political parties, the Swiss People’s Party and involves establishing a list of supposedly safe countries – which would presumably include all of Switzerland’s neighbours – and then summarily rejecting anyone who has passed through such a country, according to Mr. Lubbers.The proposed law also includes recommendations that asylum seekers who still remain in Switzerland – apparently including those not accepted back by neighbouring countries – should be denied access to the labour market and receive the bare minimum of accommodation and food rations, Mr. Lubbers said, adding that such steps would violate UNHCR guidelines. “If the Swiss people vote ‘yes’ to this initiative, the result will be that any refugee who arrives in Switzerland overland will be rejected outright – however well-founded his or her claim might be,” he said. The senior UNHCR official said since the great majority of refugees arriving in Switzerland come overland, this initiative would mean that Switzerland “will have more or less shut its doors to people fleeing persecution – even people who have escaped atrocities, massacres or torture.” The agency said it recognized that a number of people attempt to use the asylum system as a means to gain access to Switzerland’s labour market, and supported serious efforts to reduce such misuse of the system, providing it did not compromise the protection of the many genuine and deserving refugees who arrive in Switzerland each year. UNHCR said the Swiss Government’s new DUO procedure, which has been in effect since August, is one such effort that deserves support. “Under the procedure, the authorities at Swiss reception centres should be able to quickly identify and exclude applicants whose asylum claims are abusive or clearly unfounded within 15 days of their arrival in Switzerland, while at the same time not sacrificing an individual’s fundamental right to seek asylum and have his or her claim heard,” the agency said.

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