Special reception needs of vulnerable groups



Swiss Refugee Council

Identification of persons in a situation of vulnerability

The issue of reception conditions for vulnerable persons has become a subject of concern in the last years, but little has been set up concretely to provide solutions. National law does not define the categories of persons who are considered as vulnerable. Only the obligation of identification of victims of human trafficking has recently been introduced in the Swiss legislation,1 to respond to European requirements.2 Except for that unique provision, situations of vulnerability often remain undetected unless they appear to be obvious (unaccompanied children, handicapped persons, seriously ill, etc.). Trauma is not regularly examined, due to the limited means available for medical personnel in the federal centres, among other factors.


Specific structures

Every asylum seeker is housed in a reception and processing centre, regardless of his or her situation of vulnerability. In terms of accommodation conditions, the Ordinance of the DFJP states that special needs of children, families and individuals in need of supervision are taken into account as far as possible in the allocation of beds.3 Except for some arrangements for families and children in the reception and processing centres, little is done at the federal level. In the federal reception and processing centres, families are usually accommodated in separate rooms. Unaccompanied children are usually housed together with single women or single women with children.4 In some of the remote centres, there is a lack of privacy for families, as all families are accommodated in one large room, separated only by bed sheets.

There is general consensus that current structures are not adapted for persons in need for specific support. In practice, authorities are therefore expected to transfer vulnerable persons into cantonal structures as soon as possible, as those are more likely to offer adapted facilities.

The compliance of cantonal structures with the needs of vulnerable persons is very variable, as no requirement is provided by national law. The SEM used to assign unaccompanied children to the cantons in which specific structures were set up. It now requires all cantons to provide for specific structures and announced that the cantonal attribution of unaccompanied children would occur according to the regular distribution key for asylum seekers (see section on Freedom of Movement),  regardless of the existent structures. Unless all cantons consent to important efforts, this recent decision might be at the expense of vulnerable asylum seekers.

Accommodation for unaccompanied children still varies considerably among the cantons. Some cantons have specialised centres for unaccompanied children. Younger children are often accommodated in foster families or children’s homes. Some cantons do not have specialised centres for unaccompanied children, and therefore some are accommodated in normal asylum seekers’ centres together with adults. This is criticised by NGOs, as it does not provide an appropriate environment for the unaccompanied children and they are not cared for sufficiently. In May 2016, the Conference of the Cantonal Social Directors published recommendations on unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in order to work towards a certain uniformity.5 Due to the increase in the number of unaccompanied minors 2014 and 2015, several cantons increased their reception capacities: for example the canton of Argovia opened a new specialised centre for unaccompanied minors (who had previously been accommodated together with adults) in spring 2015,6 the canton of Berne opened additional specialised reception centres for unaccompanied minors in autumn 2014,7 January 2016,8 and autumn 2016.9 Lucerne opened a new centre in November 2015,10 and Schwyz in August 2016.11

There are no special centres for families or other vulnerable persons, but the competent authorities try to take their needs into account within the existing structures, for example by accommodating families in a room of their own, or providing families with individual housing (at the cantonal level) as soon as possible.


Traumatised persons

Several organisations provide assistance to traumatised asylum seekers, through individual support or public researches. The Outpatient Clinic for victims of torture and war (“Service ambulatoire pour victimes de la torture et de la guerre”) in Bern offers a wide range of therapies that combine social work and different treatments for persons traumatised by extreme violence.12 Other similar initiatives are available in Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich, mostly from civil society.13 However, the capacities of these institutions are insufficient compared to the needs. According to national law,14 the SEM also financially supports the setup of facilities for the treatment of traumatized asylum seekers, in particular the teaching and research in the field of specialised supervision of those asylum seekers.

  • 1. Article 35 and 36 Ordinance on Admission, Period of Stay and Employment.
  • 2. Article 10 Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, Warsaw, 16 May 2005.
  • 3. Article 4 Ordinance of DFJP.
  • 4. SEM, Information given by email, 30 January 2015.
  • 5. Konferenz der kantonalen Sozialdirektorinnen und Sozialdirektoren (SODK), Empfehlungen der SODK zu unbegleiteten minderjährigen Kindern und Jugendlichen aus dem Asylbereich (Conference of the cantonal Social directors, Recommendations of the SODK regarding unaccompanied minors in the area of asylum), 20 May 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2jmj4JE.
  • 6. Canton of Argovia, ‘Unterkunft für unbegleitete minderjährige Asylsuchende in Aarau’ (Accommodation for unaccompanied minors in Aarau), 29 April 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1FQ5k1f.
  • 7. Canton of Berne, ‘Zusätzliche Unterkunftsplätze für unbegleitete minderjährige Asylsuchende in Belp’ (Additional reception places for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in Belp), 23 October 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1j9xief.
  • 8. Canton of Berne, ‘Eröffnung eines Ankunftszentrums in Huttwil’, 15 December 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/2jt3kSJ.
  • 9. Canton of Berne, ‘Zusätzliche Unterbringungsplätze in Beatenberg’, 11 July 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2j0EEF9.
  • 10. Canton of Lucerne, ‘Neues Zentrum für unbegleitete minderjährige Asylsuchende in Kriens’, 28 October 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/2jmlVCy.
  • 11. Canton of Schwyz, ‘Kanton führt temporäre Wohngruppe für unbegleitete minderjährige Asylsuchende’, 30 June 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2jt4PjL.
  • 12. Swiss Red Cross, Service ambulatoire pour victimes de la torture et de la guerre (Outpatient clinic for victims of torture and war), available in French at: http://bit.ly/1KcqxTR.
  • 13. For contacts and more information, see the website Support for Torture Victims: http://bit.ly/1IdLMmq.
  • 14. Article 44 AO2.

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