Swiss asylum law proposals: UNHCR's concerns

Briefing Notes, 27 July 2004

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 July 2004, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has submitted its comments on the new proposals to modify the Swiss asylum law to the Federal Office for Refugees and has listed a number of concerns.

Our comments are intended to contribute positively to the process of drawing up new legislation that serves the interests of Switzerland while safeguarding established international standards designed to protect refugees. This is part of UNHCR's normal work in supervising the implementation of international refugee law.

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

UNHCR 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. And, we observed there appears to be no need for governments to focus so single-mindedly on restrictive revisions of their asylum laws.

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. We also have expressed particular reservations on the new proposal to grant humanitarian status only to people able to present certain identity documents.