Material reception conditions primarily consist of accommodation, food, health care and limited financial allowance according to the specific entitlement to social assistance. Assistance benefits are granted only when a person is unable to maintain him or herself from own resources, and under the condition that no third party is required to support him or her on the basis of a statutory or contractual obligation.1 For organisational reasons, accommodation in asylum centres is however available for all asylum seekers, regardless of their financial resources.2 Note also that social assistance, departure and enforcement costs as well as the costs of the appeal procedure must be reimbursed subsequently if the person has the necessary means at a later point in time.3
Asylum seekers in a regular procedure are entitled to full material reception conditions from the deposit of the request for protection until the granting of a legal status or the rejection of their application. Material or financial assistance then continues either under the emergency aid scheme in case the person has to leave the country, or according to the usual legislation on social assistance if the person receives a protection status.
In the federal reception and processing centres, reception conditions are similar for all asylum seekers regardless of the type of procedure they will go through. After cantonal attribution, reception conditions may change significantly. General legal entitlement to reception conditions is governed by national law and should therefore be similar in all cantons, but the implementation of those national provisions is largely dependent on cantonal regulation and varies in practice.
Admissibility procedure (including Dublin) or fast-track examination (48h procedure)
According to national law, asylum seekers whose application may be dismissed without proceeding to a substantive examination,4 or rejected within the 48-hour procedure,5 are entitled to the same reception conditions as persons in a regular procedure, until formal dismissal or rejection of their application. In practice, however, they may have special reception conditions, due to the short term perspective of a foreseen removal.
Swiss legislation is based on the idea that dismissal or quick rejection of an application will occur within the 90 days of the stay in the federal centre. Quickly rejected or dismissed asylum seekers shall in principle not be allocated to a canton, unless their appeal has not been decided within a reasonable time or they are prosecuted or convicted of a felony or misdemeanour committed in Switzerland.6 Theoretically, return should occur directly from a federal centre, without any allocation to a canton. The persons concerned (especially Dublin cases) may in practice also be transferred to a remote location (directly related to a federal reception and processing centre) where they can stay up to 12 months without cantonal assignation.7
However, in practice asylum seekers are often assigned to a canton even in case of dismissal or 48-hour procedures. Based on the argument of an imminent transfer or return, asylum seekers whose application is likely to end up within one of these two procedures will mostly be transferred in shelters dedicated to such types of procedures. Those shelters are known for their Spartan housing conditions, which are supposed to support the Swiss political policy of making the country less attractive.8
Asylum seekers are entitled to social benefits until the decision of rejection or dismissal becomes enforceable. This is the case when the deadline for appeal expires without any appeal being made, or at the moment the appeal authority rejects the appeal. The person has to leave the country and the material reception conditions become dramatically reduced as the person is excluded from social assistance and falls into the emergency aid scheme.
Test centre in Zurich (accelerated procedure)
Asylum seekers are randomly assigned to the test phase that currently takes place in Zurich.9 Not only is the procedure different, but asylum seekers are also housed in separate reception centres. Entitlement to material reception conditions remains the same as in the regular procedure, even though the responsibility between the Confederation, cantons, and the municipalities may be distributed in a different way.10 Asylum seekers benefit from accommodation, social assistance, health care and education for children under 16.11 Asylum seekers in the test phase are not entitled to work.12 Like in the regular procedure, full entitlement to reception conditions ends with the enforceable decision of rejection or dismissal. After exclusion from social assistance, rejected and dismissed asylum seekers are entitled to emergency aid in case of need.
Airport procedure (border procedure)
When an asylum seeker applies for asylum at the airport of Geneva or Zurich, the Swiss authorities must decide whether to permit entry into Switzerland within 20 days.13 If entry into Swiss territory is allowed, the asylum seeker is assigned to a canton and is entitled to regular reception conditions. If entry is refused, the SEM shall provide persons with a place of stay and appropriate accommodation until they leave the country.14 While the asylum seekers are in the airport procedure, they are provided with accommodation in the transit zone (they cannot go out of the airport), food and first necessity goods. The accommodation centre in the transit zone of Geneva has a capacity of 30 places, in Zurich of 60 places. Asylum seekers may be held at the airport or exceptionally at another location for a maximum of 60 days. On the issue of a legally binding removal order, asylum seekers may be transferred to a prison specifically for deportees.15
The appeal procedure is part of the overall procedure and does not affect the entitlement to material reception conditions. Restrictions occur at the moment when the decision becomes enforceable, which means either at the moment the appeal authority rejects the appeal, or when the deadline for appeal expires. There should therefore be no change of reception conditions during the appeal procedure, neither regarding accommodation, nor regarding social assistance benefits.
Subsequent applications: application for re-examination, revision or subsequent applications
Swiss law provides for the restriction of reception conditions during the procedure for subsequent applications or applications for revision or re-examination. Therefore, persons in such procedures are excluded from receiving social assistance (as they are subject to a legally binding removal decision for which a departure deadline has been fixed) and receive only emergency aid for the duration of a procedure.16 This restriction of reception conditions also applies when the removal procedure is suspended by the competent authority. Regarding accommodation, subsequent asylum applicants do not return to a federal centre, but stay mostly assigned to the same canton.17 The level of accommodation conditions depends on the cantonal practice.
To our knowledge, in general all asylum seekers have been able to access the material reception conditions up to now, despite the growing pressure that reception facilities face and the deterioration of conditions that result with it.
It only happens in very rare cases that persons are temporarily left without accommodation. In November 2015, the media made public that there were around 10 male asylum seekers in the city of Biel in the canton of Berne who were homeless after having been banned from a centre from some time, after having been released from detention or having been absent for some time. Due to the increased numbers of asylum seekers, the canton of Berne (among other cantons) has had to find additional accommodation for asylum seekers, such as private accommodation, hotels, apartments, holiday homes. 18
In some isolated cases, it has been reported that some delay in the renewal of the personal documents had led to the denial of access to the accommodation centre and had for consequences that the person had to sleep rough.19 While those cases cannot be excluded, they remain to our knowledge limited in number.
- 1. Article 81 AsylA.
- 2. Article 28(2) AsylA states that the SEM and the cantonal authorities may allocate asylum seekers to accommodation, and in particular accommodate them as a group. This provision is separate from the ones on social assistance and emergency aid in Article 80 ff AsylA. On the side of financial organisation, accommodation is however counted in within the social assistance budget.
- 3. Article 85(1) AsylA.
- 4. See sections on Dublin and Admissibility Procedure.
- 5. In case of certain safe countries of origin, see section on Regular Procedure: Fast-Track Processing.
- 6. Article 27(4) AsylA.
- 7. Article 16b AO1.
- 8. SEM, Bénéficiaires de longue durée de l’aide d’urgence (Long-term beneficiaries of emergency aid), Rapport final, February 2012, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1TNcnLP.
- 9. See section on Accelerated Procedure.
- 10. According to Article 11 Test Phases Ordinance, cantons and municipalities may be requested to accommodate asylum seekers assigned to the test centre, in case the centre in Zurich does not have enough places. Hosting cantons become responsible for providing social assistance and benefits.
- 11. The canton of Zurich is responsible for providing for health insurance and education for asylum seekers present in the test centre on the cantonal territory, with support from the Confederation (Article 31(3)-(4) OTest).
- 12. Article 29 Test Phases Ordinance.
- 13. For details on the airport procedure see section Border Procedure.
- 14. Article 22(3) AsylA.
- 15. Article 22(5) AsylA.
- 16. The legal basis for the restriction is Article 82(2) AsylA (in force since 1 February 2014). For the reception conditions under the emergency aid scheme, see Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions.
- 17. For more information on subsequent applications, see section on Subsequent Applications.
- 18. Der Bund, ‘Obdachlose Asylbewerber in Biel’ (Homeless asylum seekers in Biel), 28 November 2015, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2jmqRXW.
- 19. Le Courrier, ‘Les critiques pleuvent sur l’EVAM qui se défend’ (The critics confront EVAM which defends itself), 6 October 2014.