UNHCR: Swiss referendum on total rejection of refugees (1)
01 November 2002
On 24 November 2002 the Swiss electorate will vote in a referendum on asylum proposals brought by the right wing People's Party. The Geneva based United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that if adopted, Switzerland's asylum system will become one of the most restrictive in the industrialised world and result in genuine refugees not having their claims heard at all:
"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... Since the great majority of refugees arriving in Switzerland come overland, this means the country will have more or less shut its doors to people fleeing persecution – even people who have escaped atrocities, massacres or torture." - UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers .
The UNHCR also criticised the "misleading" presentation of the proposals by the yes campaign suggested that the new law would breach the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees. A yes vote would also greatly reduce the level of assistance provided to recognised refugees already present in Switzerland.
UNHCR Press release, 5 November 2002
GENEVA – The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, said on Tuesday he was concerned that an initiative to alter Switzerland's asylum legislation, if voted into law on 24 November, would transform the country's asylum system into one of the most restrictive in the industrialized world. A senior official at the UN refugee agency also criticized the campaign in support of the initiative as "highly misleading."
The initiative has been put forward by one of Switzerland's political parties, the Swiss People's Party. Key elements include 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. In addition, it is proposed that most of the asylum seekers who remain in Switzerland would receive the barest minimum of assistance.
"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," said Lubbers. "Since the great majority of refugees arriving in Switzerland come overland, this means the country will have more or less shut its doors to people fleeing persecution – even people who have escaped atrocities, massacres or torture."
Raymond Hall, a senior official at the UN refugee agency, which has its world headquarters in Switzerland, said that such practice would, in effect, transfer the responsibility of determining the authenticity of a claim to neighbouring countries, without any prior guarantee that those countries would cooperate.
Hall, Director of UNHCR's Europe Bureau, pointed out that Switzerland's neighbours, which themselves also receive varying numbers of asylum seekers, were unlikely simply to accept such a radical and unilateral action by Switzerland. "Based on such an unsound premise, the initiative is likely to produce more problems than it solves," he said. UNHCR recognizes that a number of people attempt to use the asylum system as a means to gain access to Switzerland's labour market – a problem also encountered in other Western Europe countries and supports serious efforts to reduce such misuse of the system, providing it does not compromise the protection of the many genuine and deserving refugees who arrive in Switzerland each year.
UNHCR believes that the Swiss Government's new DUO procedure, which has been in effect since August, is one such effort that deserves support. Under the DUO 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 a