Types of accommodation



Swiss Refugee Council

While the Confederation is responsible for setting up and running the 6 reception and processing centres as well as their related “remote locations”, cantons are in charge of their own reception centres. Asylum applications are lodged exclusively in the federal centres, where the first steps of the procedure take place.

As a general comment on the reception issue, it should be noted that cantonal reception structures were reorganised in 2007,1 after the DFJP decided to reduce financial allocation to the cantons, based on a temporarily lower number of asylum seekers. Rising numbers of arriving asylum seekers in the following years, and within short periods of time in 2014 and 2015, have presented a challenge to the cantons. In 2015, many cantons had to increase their reception capacity. In some cases, additional beds were added in existing centres. Other cantons resorted to alternative solutions, such as the use of civil protection shelters, the accommodation of asylum seekers in hotels (Ticino, Valais) or private apartments (Jura), the temporary use of tents (Aargau), and faster allocation of asylum seekers to municipalities (for example Thurgau).2  From October 2015 to January 2016, the number of asylum seekers living in underground bunkers doubled.3 Also in 2016, it has continued to prove a challenge to cantonal and communal authorities to find new localities for reception centres, as there is often strong (sometimes xenophobic) resistance from the local population.4

While the Federal Supreme Court held that reception conditions in a civil protection shelter do not violate the human dignity of persons under emergency aid,5 the situation in such shelters seems largely unsatisfactory for asylum seekers who are still in a procedure. Single men are mostly affected, although there are sometimes also families who are accommodated in bunkers. In Geneva, in 2015 a protest committee has formed against accommodation of asylum seekers in underground bunkers.6

Here is an overview of the different kinds of centres, principally at the federal level, as cantons all have their own specificities.


Federal reception and processing centres7

After entering Switzerland, persons in need for protection mostly go to one of the 6 reception and processing centres to lodge an asylum application. Asylum seekers spend the first weeks/months (up to 90 days according to the Asylum Act) in those centres, until they are assigned to a canton.

The reception and processing centres are located close to Swiss borders:

  • Altstätten (Canton of St. Gallen);

  • Basel (Canton of Basel);

  • Kreuzlingen (Canton of Thurgau);

  • Vallorbe (Canton of Vaud);

  • Chiasso (Canton of Ticino); and

  • Berne (Canton of Berne).

Fixed accommodation capacity of the federal centres are approximately 5,000 beds. Centres are often overcrowded and may have to house more people than their initial capacity. The running of the centres and security matters are entrusted to private companies.8 The federal reception and processing centres can be described as semi-closed, as the hours when asylum seekers may leave and return are limited. For more information, see section on Freedom of Movement.

At the end of 2016, the occupancy rate of the 6 federal reception and processing centres, with a total capacity of 4,032 places, was 51%9


Remote locations

The emergency law adopted in September 2012 introduced the ability for the Confederation to open new accommodation facilities in order to reduce the number of applicants assigned to the cantons. If necessary, the SEM can therefore decide to open new reception and registration centres or – in case of an extraordinary influx of asylum seekers – external hosting centres (such as civil protection facilities).10 In February 2016, there were approximately 20 remote locations in different regions. These change with time, as they are only used temporarily.

All remote locations are located in former military shelters. The National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) considers that these military installations are only suitable for short stays of up to 3 weeks.11 In practice, people stay longer. National law even provides for a maximum stay of 12 months.12 As in the federal reception and processing centres, the regime is semi-closed.

The Federal Council together with the cantons and towns is preparing an emergency plan in order to be able to provide for 3,000 additional reception places in case of a quick and significant rise in asylum applications.13


Specific centres for uncooperative asylum seekers

The opening of specific centres for uncooperative asylum seekers is foreseen by the Asylum Act under Article 26(1bis) and Article 16b AO1. None has been opened yet, but one is planned in Les Verrières, Canton of Neuchâtel (for more information and a definition of uncooperative asylum seekers, see section on Reduction or Withdrawal of Reception Conditions).


Test centre in Zurich

The SEM opened a test centre in Zurich to test new asylum procedures. Asylum seekers are randomly attributed to the test procedures after lodging an asylum application in one of the regular reception and processing centres.14 Current reception capacity amounts to 300 beds. At the beginning of 2017, an additional federal reception centre will be opened in Embrach, Canton of Zurich, with a capacity of 120 places. This centre will also be run in the context of the test procedure, and will have the function of a so-called “departure centre”, housing rejected asylum seekers until they leave Switzerland.15


Transit zones in Geneva and Zurich Airports

The SEM shall provide persons who lodged an asylum application at the airport with a place of stay and appropriate accommodation.16 Maximum stay in the transit zone is 60 days.17 The accommodation centre in the transit zone of Geneva has a capacity of 30 places, in Zurich of 60 places.


Reception centres at the cantonal level

Each canton has its own reception system that usually includes several types of housing (collective centre, family apartment, home for unaccompanied children, etc. Generally, asylum seekers will be placed in shelters according to the type of procedure they go through (i.e. the supposed length of their stay in Switzerland) and on their personal situation (family, unaccompanied children, vulnerable persons, single men, etc).

Some cantons (Appenzell Innerrhoden, Glarus, Zug, Aargau) house asylum seekers mostly in collective centres, while others make fewer use of collective structures (Ticino, Basel-City and Appenzell Ausserrhoden). Overall, 52% of asylum seekers and temporarily admitted persons receiving social assistance are housed in individual accommodations, 45% in collective centres and the remaining 3% in other types of housing (includes institutions, staying with relatives etc.)18

Many cantons organise the accommodation structure in 2 phases: the first one in collective shelters, the second in private accommodation. The moment asylum seekers are transferred in individual accommodation depends on the canton of allocation and its accommodation capacity.19

  • 1. For a statistical analysis, see Vivre ensemble, «Afflux des demandeurs d’asile»: un abus de langage! (“Influx of asylum seekers”: an abuse of language!), 19 December 2008, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1Gyonqt.
  • 2. Tagesanzeiger, ‘Wie die Kantone die Asylsuchenden unterbringen’ (How the cantons accommodate the asylum seekers), 23 July 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/2j0yZPu.
  • 3. Der Bund, ‘Schon 7000 Flüchtlinge leben unterirdisch’ (Already 7000 refugees live underground), 28 January 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2j0HzgV.
  • 4. For example, in the village of Muhen in the canton of Argovia, locals gathered with torches to protest against a planned reception centre close to the local school: Aargauer Zeitung, ‘der Ku-Klux-Klan in Muhen? Der Fackel-Umzug gegen Asylbewerber wird kontrovers diskutiert’ (Ku-Klux-Klan in Muhen? The torch parade against asylum seekers is discussed controversially), 1 December 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2ja3LQX.
  • 5. Federal Supreme Court, decision 8C_912/2012 of 22 November 2013. For a comment on that decision, see Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights, Héberger un requérant d’asile débouté dans des abris de protection civile est conforme au droit (Accommodating an asylum seeker in civil protection shelters is in line with the law), 12 March 2014, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1CsdPrX.
  • 6. See: http://stopbunkers.wordpress.com/.
  • 7. Legal provisions related to the management of the reception and processing centres are in the Asylum Act, the Ordinance of the DFJP on the management of federal reception centres in the field of asylum and internal regulations of the registration centres. Further information is available on the website of the SEM, at: http://bit.ly/1dfDc9V.
  • 8. The SEM delegates the task of managing the operation of reception and processing centres to third parties (Article 26 para. 2ter). Thus, the ORS Service AG (Basel, Vallorbe, Chiasso) and AOZ Asyl Organisation Zürich (Kreuzlingen, Altstätten) are responsible for coaching services. 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).
  • 9. Only at Federal level. SEM, Information provided by e-mail of 18 January 2017.
  • 10. Article 26a AsylA and Article 16a AO1.
  • 11. NCPT, Report 2014, 8, para 26.
  • 12. Article 16a AO1.
  • 13. Federal Council, ‘Notfallplanung Asyl: Mögliche Nutzung militärischer Hallen in Brugg’, 6 December 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2j0zuZH.
  • 14. See Accelerated Procedure.
  • 15. SEM, ‘Bundesasylzentrum Embrach (ZH) eröffnet 2017’, 7 November 2016, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2jV7sOp.
  • 16. Article 22(3) AsylA, see Border Procedure.
  • 17. Article 22(5) AsylA.
  • 18. Federal Office for Statistics, Statistique de l’aide sociale dans le domaine de l’asile (eAsyl), Résultats nationaux 2015 (Social assistance statistics in the asylum domain, national results 2015), Neuchâtel, August 2016, 20.
  • 19. Ibid, 20.

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