Border procedure (border and transit zones)



Swiss Refugee Council

General (scope, time limits)

Switzerland has no land border with third countries. All neighbouring states are Schengen and Dublin Member States. There is therefore no special procedure at land borders; persons who request asylum at the border or following their detention for illegal entry in the vicinity of the border shall normally be assigned by the competent authorities to a reception and processing centre, where they enter the same procedure as any other asylum seeker.1 However, since the summer of 2016 this has not always been guaranteed in practice at the southern Swiss border with Italy (see Access to the Territory).

There is a special procedure for people who ask for asylum at the airport. If a person arrives at the airport of Zurich or Geneva, the airport police inform the SEM immediately. As a next step, the airport police (in Zurich) or the SEM (in Geneva) shall record the person’s personal details and take his or her fingerprints and photographs. The competent authority may record additional biometric data and summarily ask asylum seekers about their itinerary and the reasons for leaving their country.2 If a person requests asylum at another airport in Switzerland, the person will be transferred to a reception and processing centre and will enter the regular procedure. 

In Zurich and Geneva, accommodation will be provided during the time of the airport procedure. Asylum seekers may be held at the airport or exceptionally at another location for a maximum of 60 days.3

The SEM examines if Switzerland is responsible to carry out the procedure according to the Dublin Regulation. The SEM authorises entry into the territory if Switzerland is responsible according to the Dublin III Regulation, and if the asylum seeker appears to be at risk under any of the grounds stated in the refugee definition at Article 3(1) AsylA or under threat of inhumane treatment in the country from which he or she has directly arrived; or if the asylum seeker establishes that the country from which he or she has directly arrived would force him or her to return to a country in which he or she appears to be at risk, in violation of the prohibition of refoulement. If it cannot immediately be verified if the mentioned conditions are fulfilled, the entry into the territory is temporarily denied.4 The asylum seeker is then accommodated in a special accommodation facility within the transit zone of the airport.5

The airport procedure can result in a decision to enter the country, a negative decision or an inadmissibility decision. The decision has to be taken within 20 days after the application was made. If the procedure takes more time, the SEM has to allocate the asylum seeker to a canton.6 In a great majority of cases, the time limit is respected in practice; people are sent to the responsible canton automatically after 20 days.


Personal interview

In the airport procedure, a first interview will take place in every case. In Zurich, the airport police conduct the interview, while in Geneva it is the SEM. In case of unaccompanied minors, their person of confidence participates in the first interview (see section on Legal Representation of Unaccompanied Children). Other than this, there is no difference between the first interviews in the regular procedure and the ones in the airport procedure (see sections on Regular Procedure: Personal Interview and Admissibility Procedure: Personal Interview).

If the SEM decides to examine the asylum application substantively, or if the application does not fulfil the criteria for an asylum application, namely if it is based solely on economic or medical grounds, there is a second, detailed interview on the grounds for asylum. If the asylum seeker has not been allowed to enter Swiss territory, this second interview takes place in the transit zone of the airport. It is conducted by the SEM. The same modalities apply as in the regular procedure (see section on Regular Procedure: Personal Interview).



Against a decision taken during the airport procedure an appeal can be made within 5 working days.7 The Federal Administrative Court is the competent appeal authority, like in the regular procedure. As in the regular procedure, appeals have automatic suspensive effect, except for Dublin decisions, in which case the person has to ask for suspensive effect (for further information, see sections on Regular Procedure: Appeal and Dublin: Appeal).

There is an independent legal advisory office in place in the airport transit zones in Zurich and in Geneva. Usually, the Court is not very strict with appeals that are submitted in in another language because the airport procedure does not provide the same options to translate documents as the regular procedure.


Legal assistance

The law does not provide access to state-funded free legal assistance during the airport procedure. However, in practice, there is a legal advisory office in the transit zone of the airports in Zurich and in Geneva. There is no difference considering legal assistance between the regular procedure and the airport procedure (see section on Regular Procedure: Legal Assistance).

  • 1. Article 21(1) AsylA.
  • 2. Article 22 AsylA and Article 12 AO1.
  • 3. Article 22(5) AsylA.
  • 4. Article 22(1bis), (1ter) and (2) AsylA.
  • 5. In the facility, movement is very restricted. Nevertheless, the competent Swiss Federal Administrative Court has issued several decisions stating that the stay is not amounting to detention. The Federal Court and academia do not share this legal reasoning.
  • 6. Article 23(2) AsylA.
  • 7. Article 108(2) AsylA and Article 23(1) AsylA.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti