QUESTION: What is UNHCR's opinion of new Swiss asylum measures?

Briefing Notes, 27 September 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 September 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are disappointed that, despite the fact that the number of asylum applications in Switzerland has been falling steadily and is now at its lowest since 1987, new restrictive legislation is being adopted which could make access to asylum procedures exceedingly difficult for genuine refugees.

UNHCR has reiterated numerous times its serious concerns relating in particular to the provisions that would restrict access to asylum for people who have no valid travel or identity documents. The 1951 Convention specifically acknowledges and provides for refugees who may have had to flee their country without being able to obtain valid travel or identity documents. We should not forget that people trying to enter a country without documentation may have valid reasons to do so. It is often not possible for people fleeing for their lives to obtain such documents. This provision is amongst the strictest in Europe. In this context, we urge the authorities to ensure that this provision is applied in each individual case in conformity with the Convention.

Governments have the responsibility to manage migration flows, but this has to be done in a way that ensures that bona fide asylum seekers have access to asylum procedures. The right to seek and enjoy asylum is a universal human right. We are concerned that some of the provisions in this law could result in some deserving cases being denied access to international protection.

We also regret, amongst others, that the proposal to introduce a complementary protection status for individuals that do not qualify for refugee status but who are still in need and equally deserving of international protection (for example, because they could be exposed to serious harm in the context of an ongoing conflict), was not retained. This would have brought Swiss legislation closer to European norms. On the basis of its mandate, UNHCR will continue to work with the Swiss authorities toward a fair and effective asylum system.

Last year there were 14,000 asylum applications in Switzerland. This was 32 percent lower than the previous year. So far this year, there have been 4,700 applications. This is 44 percent lower than the same period last year.