Access to the territory and push backs

Switzerland

Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 14/05/21

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Despite the much calmer situation in 2019 and the significant decrease in the number of arrivals at the Italo-Swiss borders in general, OSAR was informed in September 2019 of people being pushed back at the border between Como and Chiasso. In these cases, Italian authorities received minors (but also adults) who have been sent back on the basis of the Italo-Swiss readmission agreement, without proper identification. This is in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child according to which the best interest of the child should take precedence over any other consideration and should always receive careful assessment.[1]

In 2020, the NGO Asylex reported two cases of pushbacks occurring at the Southern border. In one case, the person having been sent back to Italy had spent four days in Switzerland. He had tried to lodge his application in a federal asylum centre not mandated to register new applications and, after having been temporarily detained by the canton, he had been invited to submit his application in Chiasso. Upon arrival in Chiasso, however, he was put on a train to Milan without any possibility to apply for asylum. This removal was not documented so that it was not possible to legally contest it.

Pushbacks at the southern border had been a major problem during the summer of 2016 (see AIDA Report 2016 Update). Throughout 2018 and 2019, fewer persons tried to cross the southern border compared to 2016, as illustrated by the number of removals from Switzerland. In this context, the term removal (“Übergabe”/”Remise aux autorités étrangères”) refers to the fact that persons were handed over to authorities in neighbouring countries. The vast majority of removals were still recorded at the southern border, while the data is not available for 2020:

Removals at border from Switzerland: 2016-2020
Location 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Removals from the southern border 25,025 16,425 7,215 4,528
Total number removals 26,267 17,526 8,187 5,575 4,796

Source: Federal Customs Administration, Migration Statistics, 2016-2020.

Access to Swiss territory was the main obstacle to applying for asylum during 2020 following the border closures across Europe. Switzerland closed its borders on 13 March up until 15 June 2020. While certain exceptions were foreseen, for example for cross border workers who could continue to enter Swiss territory, none of them concerned persons claiming international protection at the border. During a press conference in March 2020, Federal Councilor Keller-Sutter emphasised that entry into Swiss territory may be refused even to asylum seekers and this would be legitimate since they would be able to claim asylum in neighboring countries such as Italy, France or Germany. This clearly violates European and international law as Member States are obliged to examine any asylum application presented by a person on their territory, including at the border. Refusing entry without examining whether this would constitute a violation of non-refoulement would represent an unlawful pushback.[2]

Due to the closed borders, asylum applications in April have reached record low numbers, with 111 primary applications lodged, most of which were probably of people already present on Swiss territory. [3] The border closure were finally lifted on 15 June 2020 and the number of applications for international protection started to progressively increase again during the rest of the year, albeit at lower levels than in previous years.

The situation in the transit zones at the airport also merits particular consideration. Since 2014, admission conditions in the transit for asylum seekers in possession of fake documents are more restrictive. In Geneva, they are admitted after an arrest order not exceeding 24 hours and brought before the Public Prosecutor, who issues an accusation ruling for forgery of a document with a fine,[4] which may constitute in some cases a violation of Article 31 of the Geneva Refugee Convention.[5] In 2020, similar practices at the airport in Geneva were still reported (see Border procedure (border and transit zones)).[6]

 

[1] Compare chapter “9.6.3 Pushbacks at the border”, in: Swiss Refugee Council OSAR, Reception conditions in Italy – Updated report on the situation of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of protection, in particular Dublin returnees, in Italy, January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2SARryi.

[2] Swiss Refugee Council, “Argumentaire de l’OSAR sur la fermeture des frontières et les demandes d’asile à la Frontière”, 30 March 2021, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2YhRXD7.

[3] Statistics available on SEM Website.

[4] Pursuant to Article 251 Criminal Code: Information provided by Elisa-Asile, 21 January 2019.

[5]  Information provided by Elisa-Asile, 21 January 2019.

[6]  Information provided by Caritas, 28 January 2021.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection