In the reception and processing centres, asylum seekers are usually housed in single-sex dorms. Places to rest or get isolated are mostly inexistent. Rooms contain at a minimum two or three beds (usually reserved for couples and families) and up to several dozens of beds each, equipped with bunk beds. Asylum seekers are responsible for cleaning their rooms. The National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT), however, regrets that the shared rooms are not cleaned more regularly.
Asylum seekers share common showers and toilet facilities which are poorly equipped in terms of privacy. The NCPT also observed that some centres have a real lack of sanitary equipment. Sanitary facilities may be very dirty according to the delegations of the NCPT. Ventilation is a common problem, especially in the sanitary facilities, but also within the entire centres.1
When reception and processing centres get crowded, the authorities may decide to open special shelters from the civil protection. Those emergency centres are not adapted for longer stay. The air is quite bad in there, while sanitary facilities are mostly insufficient for the amount of persons present in the centres. As a general remark, federal centres are often reported to be overcrowded, which can lead to a rise of tension among asylum seekers.
Federal centres are not adapted to children and family needs and the situation can be rather tough also for women. No specific measures are taken for those specific persons. Families are even separated in some federal centres because of a lack of adapted structures.2 The law simply stipulates that the special needs of children, families and other vulnerable persons are taken into account as far as possible in the allocation of beds.3 There are very few leisure activities for children, and no or only very limited schooling. In practice, authorities strive for the assignment of those persons to a canton adapted to their specific needs, as soon as possible. The general tension that exists within the centres, due to the high psychological pressure asylum seekers are living under, to the coexistence of persons with very different backgrounds, or even due to alcohol or drug issues that may occur in the centres, can make the situation very difficult for children, single women or other vulnerable persons.4
In its 2014 report on remote locations, the NCPT considers that despite the short length of stay, the special needs of children and families should be taken into account appropriately. For example, the Commission criticized that in some of the remote locations there was no room for baby care and no play corner with toys for children. Also, the Commission noted that families had no room for privacy. Except for one remote centre, which provided a snack for children in the afternoon as well as warm milk before bedtime, there were no special services for children. There was also a lack of activities offered to children. The Commission recommends improvements on these points.5
Asylum seekers are subject to body-search by security personnel every time they enter or go out of the centres. Security personnel is also authorised to seize goods when asylum seekers enter or go out of the centre.6
Asylum seekers are required to participate in domestic work on request of the staff. Household tasks are shared between all asylum seekers according to a work breakdown schedule. The permission to leave the centre is denied until the given tasks have been accomplished. Generally, maintenance is provided by third parties, namely for cleaning tasks and the cooking as well as security tasks.7 Asylum seekers may voluntarily help to serve meals or help in the kitchen. They cannot cook their own food in the federal centres, but specific diets are mostly respected.
There is a chaplaincy service in every reception and processing centre. Protestant and catholic chaplains spiritually accompany asylum seekers. They often play an important social role, as they provide an open ear to asylum seekers’ worries, and they sometimes call attention to problems in the centres. In July 2016, a pilot project with Muslim chaplains was started in the test centre in Zurich.8
Occupational programmes are proposed to asylum seekers from 16 years of age on, in order to give a structure to the day and thus facilitate cohabitation.9 The occupational programmes must respond to a local or regional general interest of the town or municipality. They must not compete with the private sector. They include work in protection of nature and the environment or for social and charitable institutions. Examples are cutting trees or hedges, fixing rural pathways, cleaning public spaces. There is no right to participate in occupational programmes. In case of shortage of places in the occupational programmes, places are distributed according to the principle of rotation of the participants. An incentive allowance may be paid to the asylum seeker. This amount is very low and can therefore not be compared to a salary for a regular job. Persons staying in a specific centre for uncooperative asylum seekers receive the incentive allowance in the form of non-cash benefits.
For more information on the reception conditions in the reception and processing centres, please see the mentioned reports of the NCPT on the situation in those centres.10
Reception conditions in the transit zone are known to be minimal. Asylum seekers may move freely in the transit area. They are entitled to a daily walk outdoors, even though the walk is restricted in time (one hour a day) and in space (in Geneva, it is a square of 60m2). There is no occupation programme in the transit areas, neither for adults, nor for children.
A project of construction of a new reception area at the airport of Geneva is strongly criticised by UNHCR and the independent organisation for defence of asylum seekers present at the airport (ELISA). Mostly contested are the complete isolation of asylum seekers (considered as detention by UNHCR) and the difficulties of access for third persons, especially legal representatives.11 However, legal remedies against the planned construction have been turned down by the Federal Administrative Court.12
As a model example of the proposed amendment for restructuring the whole asylum system, the federal centre in Zurich is known to offer relatively good reception conditions to asylum seekers. Most rooms accommodate two asylum seekers, some accommodate four to six asylum seekers. Some rooms are reserved for families, unaccompanied children and other vulnerable persons. The centre is equipped with internet facilities, sport equipment and the personnel offer German courses to the asylum seekers. Children directly join a class in the centre upon their arrival.13 See the section on Access to Education for more information.
As explained under the section on Types of Accommodation, reception conditions differ largely from on canton to another. Individual housing provides comfortable housing conditions, while most asylum seekers stay in collective centres, at least at first arrival in the canton. Cantonal authorities strive to house families in individual accommodations, even though this is not always possible. Only some cantons have specific reception centres for unaccompanied children (e.g. Vaud, Berne, Zurich, Basel, Argovia). Generally speaking, asylum seekers benefit from less restrictive measures in the cantonal centres compared to the federal centres, as they mostly can go out at their convenience, or cook for themselves for instance.
Asylum seekers are however frequently confronted with the remoteness of reception centres, which impedes them to meet with family members, acquaintances or even consult a legal representative if they do not have financial resources.
Regular protests have also occurred, especially in the canton of Vaud and in Geneva concerning the housing of asylum seekers in military shelters.14 Due to a lack of places, asylum seekers are sometimes housed in shelters usually reserved for rejected asylum seekers. Conditions are particularly difficult in those bunkers, with overcrowded rooms and no windows.
- 1. For a more detailed description of each centre, see NCPT, Rapport à l'attention de l'Office fédéral des migrations sur la visite de la Commission nationale de prévention de la torture dans les centres d'enregistrement et de procédure de l'Office fédéral des migrations (Report to the Federal Office for Migration on the visit of the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) to the federal reception and processing centres of the Federal Office for Migration), Bern, 24 July 2012 (‘NCPT Report 2012’), available in French at: http://bit.ly/1HdL0qK, 10ff.
- 2. Ibid, 10.
- 3. Article 4(1) Ordinance of the DFJP on the management of federal reception centres in the field of asylum.
- 4. Alcohol and drugs are strictly prohibited within the centres, which, however, does not prevent some breaches of the regulation from happening in practice, under Article 4(2) Ordinance of the DFJP on the management of federal reception centres in the field of asylum.
- 5. NCPT, Report 2014, 8, para. 27, 36.
- 6. According to Article 3 of the Ordinance of the DFJP, security personal is allowed to seize travel and identity documents, dangerous objects, assets, electronic devices that may disturb the tranquility, alcohol, drugs and food. Prohibited weapons and drugs are given to the police immediately (Article 3 of the Ordinance of the DFJP).
- 7. The SEM delegates the task of managing the operation of reception and processing centres to third parties under Article 26(2ter) AsylA. Thus, the ORS Service AG (Basel, Vallorbe, Chiasso) and AOZ Asyl Organisation Zürich (Kreuzlingen, Altstätten) are responsible for running the centres. Security services at the lodges are provided by the companies Securitas AG (Basel, Kreuzlingen, Vallorbe, Chiasso) and Abacon Sicherheit AG (Altstätten). Finally, the mandates of patrols operating in the vicinity of the centres have been awarded to four companies: Abacon Sicherheit AG (Kreuzlingen) Juggers Security SA (Vallorbe), Securitas (Altstätten) and Prosegur SA (Chiasso).
- 8. SEM, ‘Pilotprojekt für muslimische Seelsorge in Bundesasylzentren gestartet’, 4 July 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2j0EUDT.
- 9. Article 6a Ordinance of the DFJP.
- 10. NCPT, Report 2012; Report 2014.
- 11. For more information, see Vivre ensemble, Rejet du recours contre un lieu de détention pour requérants d’asile (Rejection of the appeal against a detention area for asylum seekers), 15 December 2014, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1SJDDsX.
- 12. Federal Administrative Court, Decision A-6364/2015 of 9 September 2016.
- 13. AOZ (organisation running the accommodation centre in Zurich), information given by e-mail, 10 February 2015.
- 14. The canton of Vaud adopted a subsidy to improve the housing conditions for asylum seekers, following several complaints from Eritrean asylum applicants, see in 24 Heures, Vaud débloque 110,2 millions pour l'accueil des requérants (Vaud releases 110.2 million for the reception of asylum seekers), 22 December 2014, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1HdUylt. Protest in Geneva against the housing of asylum seekers in bunkers, see: https://stopbunkers.wordpress.com/.