• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

UNHCR raises concerns about proposed revisions of Swiss asylum law

Press Releases, 27 July 2004

27 July 2004

GENEVA The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that it had submitted comments on the new proposals to modify the Swiss asylum law to the Federal Office for Refugees, listing a number of concerns about the proposals as they now stand.

UNHCR said that these were intended to contribute positively to the process of drawing up new legislation that served the interests of Switzerland while simultaneously safeguarding established international standards designed to protect refugees. Such comments are part of its normal work in supervising the implementation of international refugee law, including the 1951 Refugee Convention.

UNHCR stressed the need for efficient asylum systems. However, efforts to achieve efficiency should not be at the cost of principles of fairness. UNHCR suggested that some of the proposals made by the Federal Office for Refugees are focused on restricting access to the asylum procedure, and said this risked running counter to the spirit and the letter of the 1951 Convention. Instead, the agency suggested a number of measures to increase efficiency while ensuring asylum seekers can still gain access to a fair system.

UNHCR further noted that the proposals appear to be made at a time when the number of asylum seekers has dropped sharply across almost all of Europe, including Switzerland. UNHCR observed that there appears to be no need for governments to focus so single-mindedly on restrictive revisions of their asylum laws. UNHCR also indicated that another way to continue reducing the number of refugees coming to Europe is to focus much more attention on solving problems in the regions where they are coming from.

In this context, UNHCR said it was seriously concerned that the proposed restrictions, on access to a normal asylum procedure to persons who cannot submit valid travel or identity documents within 48 hours, could lead to breaches of the 1951 Convention. Many refugees are not able to obtain national passports or identity papers before fleeing their homeland. If they are being persecuted by the authorities, they cannot go to those same authorities to request the necessary documents. In some countries people may never even have been issued such documents, or they may have been confiscated or destroyed. In other cases, the documents of genuine refugees entering Europe are either stolen or destroyed by the smuggling networks into whose clutches they have fallen.

The same applies to persons otherwise eligible for humanitarian status. UNHCR has welcomed the introduction of the concept of humanitarian status, as this would fill an existing gap in the asylum system. UNHCR expressed particular reservations on the new proposal to grant humanitarian status only to people able to present certain identity documents. This would prevent deserving asylum seekers (including people fleeing war or generalized violence) who do not fall under the strict definition of the 1951 UN Convention from receiving adequate international protection.

In making these points, UNHCR said it fully recognizes the principle that asylum seekers should cooperate with the authorities in the host country, as mentioned in Article 31 of the 1951 UN Convention. They should, however, be afforded an opportunity to have their claim heard. It further added that a lack of documentation could under certain circumstances call into question the credibility of the asylum seeker, when examining the claim on its merits.

UNHCR is also concerned about the proposal to share data with the asylum seeker's country of origin after a first instance decision. The UN refugee agency said that such information-sharing should only be permitted when it is definitively determined that a person does not have a genuine fear of persecution in his or her country of origin in other words after the completion of the asylum procedure, including appeals. Otherwise, the possibility increases that the asylum seeker or family members could be put at risk.

UNHCR further stressed that the challenges to migration and asylum systems in Europe are multi-faceted and will require a global approach over the coming years. They cannot be resolved in isolation. More resources need to be allocated to crisis areas, either to prevent fledgling conflicts spinning out of control, or to provide support to countries in the region hosting most of the refugees. More attention also needs to be paid to establishing regular migration channels that would undercut the existing smuggling networks.




UNHCR country pages

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the Colombian women's rights group, Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future, with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday night.

The volunteer members of Butterflies risk their lives each day to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse in the Pacific Coast city of Buenaventura. This city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating rivalries between illegal armed groups.

Drawing on only the most modest of resources, volunteers cautiously move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical care and report crimes. This work, deep inside the communities, helps them reach the most vulnerable women, but also brings with it danger and threats from the illegal armed groups.

The Award ceremony, in its 60th year, was held in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, and featured musical performances by UNHCR supporters, Swedish-Lebanese singer-songwriter Maher Zain and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. The Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela also performed at the ceremony.

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

More than 400 people attended the annual presentation in Geneva in October 1, 2012 of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. This year's inspirational winner from Somalia, Hawa Aden Mohamed, was unable to attend for health reasons, but she sent a video message. In the former refugee's absence, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the award and Nansen medal to her sister, Shukri Aden Mohamed.

The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

Switzerland: Kuwait Donates US$ 100 Million to the Syria CrisisPlay video

Switzerland: Kuwait Donates US$ 100 Million to the Syria Crisis

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees welcomes the State of Kuwait's contribution of US$ 100 million to support UNHCR operations aiding Syrians.
UNHCR Geneva: Executive Committee 2012Play video

UNHCR Geneva: Executive Committee 2012

Refugee agency chief António Guterres opens annual ExCom meeting with warning that UNHCR being stretched by multiplication of new refugee crises.