People with serious illnesses or mental disorders, and survivors of torture, rape or other forms of serious violence, including female genital mutilation (FGM)
The UN Human Rights Committee stated in its recommendations on the fourth periodic report of Switzerland in 2017 that it regretted that expert evaluations drawn up pursuant to the Istanbul Protocol were not fully recognised and taken into account by the Swiss authorities in implementing the principle of non-refoulement. According to the same recommendations, Switzerland should ensure that all personnel concerned receive systematic and practical training on the Istanbul Protocol and apply it. According to the information available to the Swiss Refugee Council, an overall introduction (6 hours) to the importance and use of the Istanbul protocol was provided to all officers working in the new Federal Reception Centres in 2020. No further information is available on the provision of further courses between 2021 and 2022.
National NGOs report cases in which the SEM failed to carry out further investigations and, in particular, have expert reports drawn up in accordance with the standards of the Istanbul Protocol if asylum seekers assert – in the hearings or via medical reports – that they are victims of torture or inhuman/degrading treatment. Even when asylum seekers nevertheless succeed in producing such reports in individual cases, the Swiss authorities often fail to take them into account adequately, especially when it comes to the (physical/psychological) consequences of the ill-treatment endured. This in turn can have a very meaningful impact on the asylum claim, as it makes it very hard for the asylum seekers to make their claims credible.
In a report of 2017, the National Commission for the prevention of Torture considered that, in all the asylum and migration centres it visited, there was no standard protocol in practice to facilitate access to assistance and support for victims of torture. The same conclusions were repeated in a report published in 2021. A round table with representatives of the SEM and of national NGOs dealing with the topic took place in September 2019, but it is unclear which further steps the Government will take to better implement the provisions of the Protocol (see also section on the Use of medical reports).
In September 2018, the UN Committee against Torture ruled that the expulsion of a torture survivor to Italy under the Dublin Regulation would violate the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Committee reproached the Swiss authorities for not undertaking an individual assessment of the personal and real risk that the complainant would face in Italy as an asylum seeker and victim of torture, and for simply relying on the assumption that he was not particularly vulnerable and would thus be able to obtain adequate medical treatment in Italy.
SEM addresses the credibility issues linked to SOGI claims in the same part of its Handbook that is devoted to gender-based persecution (for more information, see section on Victims of gender-based violence). It does though specifically mention that LGBTQI+ individuals often come from countries where they did not have the possibility of expressing their sexual orientation/gender identity. Therefore, they might find it particularly difficult to disclose it or talk about it, because of feelings of stigma, and shame. The use of the DSSH model is thus recommended to carry out interviews with them. Despite the information and guidelines provided in the Handbook, the conduct of the hearings continues to pose many problems. For instance, the asylum seeker is not always granted the right to be interviewed by people of a gender of their choice. Also, late disclosure is often weighted against the applicant, despite abundant evidence that trauma or fear can prevent LGBTQI* asylum seekers to disclose their past experiences in a timely manner. Moreover, the jurisprudence regarding LGBTQI* does not seem to be uniform according to the observation of the Swiss Refugee Council. Together with NGOs active on the field, the Swiss Refugee council has developed guidelines with the aim of supporting legal representatives dealing with LGBTQI cases.
The Observatory for Asylum and Foreigners Law in French-speaking Switzerland published in November 2022, a report that details the challenges LGBTQI+ applicants meet while navigating the Swiss asylum system. As far as the evaluation of credibility goes, the report relates that SEM officials tend to apply appreciate it too strictly, and that. some questioning techniques aim mostly at finding contradictions, thus generating a “logic of suspicion”: for example, detailed recounts of sexual intercourses are sometimes still requested, despite the existence of very clear European jurisprudence against it, or some proofs are not thoroughly examined. 
Victims of gender-based violence
According to the Asylum Act, motives for seeking asylum specific to women must be considered. Furthermore, when spouses, registered partners or a family apply for asylum, each person seeking asylum has the right, as far as they are capable of discernment, to have their own reasons for asylum examined.
If there are indications of or if the situation in the country of origin indicates gender-specific violence and persecution, the asylum seeker will be interviewed by a person of same gender according to the law. The SEM Handbook on Asylum and Return specifies that men who are victims of gender-specific violence and persecution should be able to choose the gender of the interviewing official, but that in this case the provision will be applied with some “pragmatism”. The rule also applies to the interpreter and the person taking notes. Despite this rather clear legal framework, the SEM does not always comply with these obligations.
When it comes to the assessment of credibility, settled case law accepts that a traumatized woman may try to protect herself from difficult memories by frequently using “stereotypes” or in some cases by changing the subject of phrases. Yet, the SEM is often very strict in assessing credibility, especially of late and somewhat inconsistent narratives, even when they come from highly traumatized women. The same holds true for late declarations, which are often dismissed as non-credible. This is unfortunate, as the SEM Handbook clearly states that the claimant’s credibility must not be dismissed on the sole ground of the belated allegations. 
Victims/possible victims of human trafficking
The guarantees that are in place for victims of gender-based violence (see section C above) can also be applied to potential victims of human trafficking (PVOT) or victims of human trafficking (VOT). Nevertheless, no specific provision is in place to ensure that. NGOs working in the field remark that the audition seems often more geared towards receiving information for the federal/cantonal police and not gaining an insight into the personal situation and needs of the potential victim. The practice of only granting access to a specialised victim organisation only after an in-depth audition is questionable.
In a judgement on the credibility assessment of victims of trafficking in the asylum procedure and the positive obligations of the authorities to identify victims of trafficking, the Federal Administrative Court noted that untrue statements in earlier proceedings constitute a typical testimony of victims of human trafficking, and therefore should not automatically lead to the assumption that the subsequent human trafficking allegations were unreliable.
Regarding the personal interview of children, especially unaccompanied children, Swiss law provides for the interviewer to take into account the special nature of being a child. According to case law specific guarantees should be in place. Namely, the atmosphere should be welcoming and benevolent, the adults in the room must have an open and empathetic attitude, each of the participants should introduce themselves to the child and the aims and objectives of the interview should be clarified in a child friendly manner. The Court also provided some details on how the interview should take place: the pace should be slower than the one followed in an interview with an adult, breaks should be granted every 30 minutes, ‘open’ questions should be preferred, at least at the beginning, conversation topic should be changed only after announcing it to the minor, the listeners’ attitude should remain neutral.
The practice does not always live up to these standards. In one decision, the Federal Administrative Court took specific issue with the way the SEM conducted the interview as they did not take sufficient account of the child’s particular vulnerability during the hearing. The hearing was conducted in the same way as that of an adult asylum seeker: introductory questions to create a trusting atmosphere were completely absent, the pace of questioning and the type of questions posed were not appropriate, the role and function of the officers present not clearly explained. The Court found that the child’s right to be heard had been breached, and that the administrative authorities should re-assess the case.
In other cases, the administrative authorities fail to consider that the minor’s age could have an impact on the internal consistency of their accounts, and apply the same credibility standards as adults. This is also in contrast with international guidelines on child-friendly justice and on the child’s right to be heard.
In September 2020 the Committee for the Rights of the Child found that, by removing two minor children with their mother to Italy according to the Dublin III Regulation without properly hearing them, Switzerland had violated Article 3 and 12 of the CRC. Another decision, along the same lines, was published in March 2022. Both decisions address a common problem in Swiss practice whereby very young minors, especially if accompanied by their families, are only seldom heard, because it is assumed that their interests coincide that of their parent. Such practice is against the CRC. According to the SEM, they systematically interviewed accompanied minors aged 14 or over, whereas younger children are only interviewed directly if this is necessary to establish the facts. Since spring 2021, a right to be heard is systematically granted to parents of children under the age of 14 concerning the specific situation of these children. This right is granted in both Dublin and substantive procedures in order to take into account all elements relating to the particular situation of these children and determine whether a personal hearing of the latter is necessary. Providers of legal protection services were informed of the new measures taken by the SEM. They were asked to discuss the particular situation of children under 14 years of age during the first interview with the family and then to promptly inform the SEM of any specificities (obstacles to removal, specific grounds for asylum, conflict of interest with the parents, etc.) so as to enable planning of a possible hearing of the minor under 14 years of age if necessary.
People with serious illnesses or mental disorders, and survivors of torture, rape or other forms of serious violence, including female genital mutilation (FGM)
The practice is not always correct when it comes to victims of FGM (or at risk thereof): while the type of FGM suffered does not seem to have (rightfully so) any bearing in the decision-making process, sometimes the SEM refuses asylum on the basis that FGM is a one-off act that cannot be repeated on the same girl or woman and that asylum law cannot make up for wrongful acts committed in the past. This is in sharp contrast with the UNHCR guidance on FGM. The Federal Administrative Court generally takes a more careful approach. In one judgment, for instance, the Federal Administrative Court accepted that FGM is a form of persecution specific to women. In examining the risk of future harm, the judges did not consider the risk of re-infibulation, but rather the general risk that the applicant will be subjected to other forms of persecution as a single, displaced woman with children. Moreover, the trauma caused by FGM was mentioned as a cause of the applicant’s fragility and subsequent vulnerability. A relevant case concerned a young Somali national, who suffered from FGM in her country of origin and, once in Switzerland, underwent a de-infibulation procedure. According to the Federal judges, the applicant would certainly be at risk of further FGM in case of return to Somalia, but this was because of her own doing (namely, because she submitted to a de-infibulation procedure). Thus, the applicant only received protected status (F-permit refugee) and not asylum.
When it comes to decision-making, the SEM and Federal Administrative Court do not consider criminalisation of “non-compliant” sexual identity/gender orientation in the country of origin as sufficient ground for an asylum request. There must be past persecution, ‘simple’ harassment will not be regarded as enough. Furthermore, both bodies attach a lot of weight to the “discretion requirement”, often claiming that the asylum seeker could avoid persecution by concealing their sexual orientation upon return to the country of origin. This is however in contrast with CJEU jurisprudence.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in November 2020 that Switzerland had violated Article 3 ECHR in the case of a Gambian homosexual person who faced removal to Gambia. The European Judges took specific issue with the fact that the Swiss authorities had simply gone with the assumption that the applicant would have been able to live discretely in case of removal to the country of origin, furthermore benefitting from the improved situation since the election of a new, more LGBTI-friendly president in 2016. This had led the Swiss authorities to completely overlook whether the Gambian authorities would be able and willing to protect LGBTQI* people against ill treatment by non-State actors. On the contrary, the Court underlined that the applicant’s sexual orientation could still be discovered in case of return, and that the Swiss courts had failed to sufficiently assess the availability of State protection against acts of persecution stemming from non-state actors, leading to a violation of Article 3 ECHR.
Victims of gender-based violence
Although SEM specifically recognises in its Handbook that domestic violence, forced marriage and sexual violence are forms of gender-based persecution that may be relevant to an asylum application, there are very few concrete cases where applications based on this type of violence have actually been accepted. The biggest problem is always the credibility of the applicants, but both the SEM and the Federal Administrative Court also have great difficulty in recognising that women victims of these types of violence could also qualify as members of a particular social group. Assessment of the availability of State protection in case of persecution coming from third parties can also be quite problematic.
In recent years, asylum has often been granted to applicants coming from the Middle East (e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria) when falling under the listed categories above. Much more controversial is the assessment of claims of ‘honour’ killings, domestic violence, or forced marriage, lodged by ‘western’ women, especially the ones coming from the Balkan area and Türkiye. In these cases, most of the times, applications are rejected, on the basis that these States have been designated as ‘safe countries of origin’ (or, in the case of Türkiye, on the basis of settled case-law), and that State authorities would be willing and able to offer adequate protection to those targeted by these types of gender-based persecution.
Practice concerning victims of sexual violence is also problematic. Despite noting, in its Handbook, that persecutions inflicted for one of the Convention grounds could take the form of sexual violence, the Administration sometimes fails, in practice, to properly link this form of mistreatment to the appropriate Convention ground. In such cases, allegations of rape have then been dismissed as ‘common misadventures’ that took place because of the general situation of instability/ war existing in the country of origin, thus neglecting the fact that this very typical form of gender-specific persecution can be used to assess or perpetuate political, racial or religious structures of power. The SEM finally changed its approach at the end of 2020, as evidenced by the Handbook which now devotes a new paragraph to “Women in Conflict Situations”. In this new section, the SEM explicitly admits that ‘it cannot be ignored that women, solely because of their sex, are particularly and specifically affected by sexual violence in the context of conflicts’, that ‘the examination of asylum applications from persons coming from countries facing war or conflict will therefore have to determine whether the person concerned has been personally targeted because of his or her characteristics, including his or her sex’. These are certainly positive changes, which incorporate the case law of the Federal Administrative Court as well as international recommendations on the subject. It will be important to continue to monitor the case law in the coming months to see if it will be effectively implemented in daily practice.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) entered into force in Switzerland in April 2018. A group of NGOs, the Network Istanbul Convention, has been created to monitor the implementation of the Convention in the Swiss practice. The country report on Switzerland of the Istanbul Convention monitoring body, the GREVIO, was published in November 2022. For what specifically concerns the asylum field the Committee regrets the absence of a procedure for screening vulnerabilities and early detection of women victims of gender-based violence and is concerned about the persistent lack of sensitivity and understanding of gender-based violence issues among SEM staff.  GREVIO furthermore notes that the protection offered to women nationals of ‘safe’ countries is not always sufficient: this is because allegations of violence are rejected on the grounds that the third State in question would have the capacity to protect the victim, inter alia because that State has ratified the Istanbul Convention. GREVIO requests that the Swiss authorities take measures to improve the capacity to detect cases of violence against women and to assess the capacity of countries of origin to provide effective protection. They could, in this context, refer to the existing GREVIO evaluation reports. Finally, GREVIO strongly encourages the Swiss authorities to ensure that asylum-seeking women and girls are given optimal support in the asylum procedure, so that they have the opportunity to disclose all the grounds on which they seek international protection.
According to information provided by the SEM in 2021, gender-based persecution is the topic of one basic training (2 hours) and one specialisation training (3 hours) offered to caseworkers. For the year 2022, employees received the same training model as in 2021. 68 people attended the basic training. Due to the overload of work, particularly in connection with the war in Ukraine, the specialised training sessions did not take place. For the year 2023, the duration of the basic training has been reduced to 3 hours and a new concept of specialised training has been implemented (online courses followed by two days of face-to-face courses).
The SEM does not produce disaggregated statistics on the asylum grounds and therefore also not on gender-specific persecution, which would be necessary to better grasp the problem and the protection rate for asylum applications based on gender-specific persecution.
Victims/possible victims of human trafficking
Contrary to practice in other European countries, the SEM and the Federal Administrative Court deny that victims of trafficking can be considered as ‘members of a defined social group.’
While decisions and judgments on the merits are rare, there are more cases concerning victims of trafficking in the Dublin procedure, with, in some cases at least, positive decisions. In a case concerning France, the Court reminded the administrative authorities that in possible cases of trafficking they need to initiate investigations ex officio without the need for the victim to report it. Furthermore, the Court found that the general presumption of safety in human trafficking cases is not justified in the case of France, given that there are concrete indications that the vulnerability of potential victims of human trafficking in France cannot always be adequately taken into account”.
In general, it remains difficult for VOT to access asylum procedures in Switzerland, because of the very strict way the country applies the Dublin regulation.
Switzerland is currently in the 6th round of monitoring of the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women CEDAW. As part of the monitoring cycle, the Confederation published a national report in November 2020, to which NGOs responded in 2021. Another, detailed report on the specific issues concerning VOT in Switzerland, including VOT in the asylum procedure, was due for publication in 2022, but, at the time of writing, the Swiss Refugee Council does not have any further information on the state of the report.
Exemption from special procedures
It is possible, on an individual basis, to exempt an applicant from the airport procedure if stay in the transit zone is deemed not appropriate on the basis of medical reports and/or vulnerability. In practice, however, also vulnerable applicants including unaccompanied minors spend the initial phase of the procedure at the airport. In some cases, their entry can be authorised just after the first summary interview.
The number of vulnerable applicants who were authorised to enter Swiss territory in 2022 was 25.
 The UN General Assembly adopted the Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, known as the Istanbul Protocol, almost 20 years ago, available in several languages at: https://bit.ly/39Cyl0P. The Istanbul Protocol contains internationally recognised standards and procedures on how to recognise and document symptoms of torture, so that the documentation may be used as evidence in Court. Although non-binding as such, it does have a quasi-binding legal nature, because every State signatory to the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment must adhere to the standards set out there, if it wants to fulfil the obligation to carefully and effectively examine evidence of torture. As a result, the Istanbul Protocol has established itself internationally as the instrument for documenting torture and inhumane treatment.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decisions E-4306/2018, 21 September 2018; E-4422/2017, 2 April 2019; E-3422/2018, 27 June 2018; E-1490/2015, 13 March 2018. On these challenges, please also refer to Anis Keiser, Requérant.e.x.s d’asile LGBTIQ+ : Les enjeux principaux des demandes d’asile pour motifs d’OSIEGCS, ASYL 4/2020, available in French at: http://bit.ly/3R8xag5, 16.
 The Guidelines of the Swiss Refugee Council are available in French (and German) at: https://bit.ly/3q7imCu. Also, the Swiss Refugee Council developed a detailed report on the decision-making and jurisprudence related to LGBTQI* asylum seekers.
 Asile LGBTQI+, 9.
 Article 3, para 2 AsylA.
 Article 5 AO1.
 Article 6 AO1.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decisions D-7431/2018, 22 January 2019; E-1805/2017, 26 September 2019; D-2849/2017, 18 October 2019. In all these decisions, the Federal Administrative Court sent the case back to the SEM for a new assessment.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decisions E- 5954/2016, 12 June 2018; E-3953/2016, 22 August 2019, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2xqOaJT; D-6998/2017, 8 July 2019, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2IxFBit; E-6865/2017, 17 April 2019, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2v62HJY. In all these cases the SEM decisions were quashed by the Federal Administrative Court. In other cases, though, while the sexual violence was uncontested, the claimant was not able to prove that it was in connection with the flight, and the Federal Administrative Court dismissed the claim. See for example E-5299/2019, 5 March 2020, available in German at: https://tinyurl.com/y5xupmeo.
 Article 7(5) AO1.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decision E-7447/2015, 5 November 2018, available in German at: https://bit.ly/337u2Z0. See also: Federal Administrative Court, Decision D-6508/2019, 18 December 2019, and D-6229/2017, 7 February 2020.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decisions D-6508/2019, 18 December 2019, available in German at: https://bit.ly/38zH8z9; E-573/2016, 12 December 2018, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2TE2Yxn;
E-6636/2017, 21 June 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2TBnnTK; D-1520/2017, 5 April 2017, available in French at: https://bit.ly/38ytuwk.
 Information provided by the SEM, 1 April 2022. The Swiss Rrefugee Council published a detailed analysis of the application of the right to be heard in Switzerland, as well as guidelines to better implement such right in the asylum procedure, both in March 2021. They are available (in French and in German) at: https://bit.ly/3kZQBvC.
 According to the WHO, there are 4 different types of FGM, all of them being equally painful, dangerous for a girl/woman’s health and diminishing of her independence and self-worth. More information available here: https://bit.ly/3GpOHMY.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decision E-6456/2015, 29 June 2018.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decision E- 3512/2019, 27 July 2020.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decision D-2314/2018, on Congo, para 5.2.2; E-2497/2016 19 April 2018, on Azerbaïdjan, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2Q0UBcW, para 5.3.1; D-4923/2009, 1 May 2012 on Algeria, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2TElS7n, para 4.2.3; D-7041/2013, 14 May 2014 on Morocco, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3cJ9E4D, para 5.2; E-7217/2014, 18 December 2014 on Tunisia, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3qWm8xP, para 5.2.4; D-891/2013, 17 January 2014 on Iran, available at: https://bit.ly/3aDNtLq, para 5.2. and 5.3; E-3952/2017, 21 February 2018 on Afghanistan, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2IvGWGq, para 3.3. On the specific situation of bisexual persons in Morocco, D-5585/2017, 12 September 2019, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2VYOAkS. On the situation in Ethiopia, see: E-2109/2019, 28 August 2020, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3tJySe9. On the one in Syria, see: D-6722/2017, 12 August 2020. On the one in Uganda see: E-4133/2020, 20 November 2020. For a different approach, on Iraq, see D-6539/2018, 2 April 2019, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2Q0NOzN, para 7.5.
 The CJEU case in point is X, Y and Z v. Minister voor Immigratie en Asiel (consid. 70 et 71). The SEM in its Handbook on Asylum and Return states officially that the discretion requirement is no longer applied in LGBTQI cases, but practice is not always correct. When it comes to the jurisprudence of the Federal Administrative Court, recent examples are the following: E-1842/2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2IxSCZC; E-3952/ 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/3cJJjU8; E-1490/2015, available at: https://bit.ly/2PZAWdk; D-7342/2017, available at: https://bit.ly/3cKSBz6; D-6635/2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2Ix5Q8P; D-5961/2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2Iz5KO4; D-6447/2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2Q0eaCh. See also, again and unfortunately, E-2109/2019 and E-4133/2020, already mentioned in the previous footnote.
 Federal Administrative Court, E-2883/2019, 28 June 2019, D-3064/2019, 11 July 2019. See also, more positive, D-3501/2019, 21 August 2019, and E-2461-2462/2019, 12 November 2019.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decision E-4962/2019, 2 December 2019. For Afghanistan, see Federal Administrative Court, Decisions D-3501/2019, 21 August 2019 and E-2245/2017, 26 November 2019.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decisions E-1948/2018, 12 June 2018; E-6626/2019, 23 December 2019; E-1175/2020, 16 March 2020; E-5920/2019, 21 November 2019.
 For Albania, see Federal Administrative Court, Decision D-1960/2019, 7 May 2019; for Macedonia, see Federal Administrative Court, Decision E-2883/2019, 28 June 2019; for Kosovo, see Federal Administrative Court, Decisions E-4677/2018, 27 May 2020 and E-3437/2020, 13 July 2020.
 See for instance: Federal Administrative Court, Decisions D-2290/2017, 8 February 2019; D-6021/2017, 15 April 2019 and E-2657/2015, 4 April 2017.
 The Istanbul Convention is very comprehensive, and only 2 Articles, namely Articles 60 and 61, specifically refer to asylum seekers and refugees.
 Information provided by the SEM, 27 April 2021.
 Information provided by the SEM, 1 May 2023.
 It is, unfortunately, constant practice. See: Federal Administrative Court, Decision D-2759/2018, 2 July 2018; D-2341/2019, 22 October 2019; D-2759/2018, 2 July 2018; E-4273/2018, 4 February 2020; D-1547/2017, 4 December 2019, mostly focuses on the availability of State protection for VOT in Benin, and concludes that the State is willing and able to assist them.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decision D-3471/2019, 23 July 2019.
 Federal Administrative Court, Decision D-3292/2019, 1 October 2019.
 Information provided by the SEM, 1 May 2023.