Border procedure (border and transit zones)


Country Report: Border procedure (border and transit zones) Last updated: 30/11/20


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General (scope, time limits)


Switzerland has no land border with third countries. All neighbouring states are Schengen and Dublin Member States. There is therefore no special procedure at land borders; persons who request asylum at the border or following their detention for illegal entry in the vicinity of the border shall normally be assigned by the competent authorities to a federal asylum centre, where they enter the same procedure as any other asylum seeker.[1] However, since the summer of 2016 this has not always been guaranteed in practice at the southern Swiss border with Italy (see Access to the Territory).

There is a special procedure for people who ask for asylum at the airport. If a person arrives at the airport of Zurich or Geneva, the airport police inform the SEM immediately. As a next step, the airport police (in Zurich) or the SEM (in Geneva) should record the person’s personal details and take his or her fingerprints and photographs. The competent authority may record additional biometric data and summarily ask asylum seekers about their itinerary and the reasons for leaving their country.[2] If a person requests asylum at another airport in Switzerland, the person will be transferred to a federal asylum centre and will enter the regular procedure.

In Zurich and Geneva, during the time of the airport procedure, asylum seekers are placed at the airport (see Detention of Asylum Seekers). Asylum seekers may be held at the airport or exceptionally at another location for a maximum of 60 days.[3]

The SEM examines if Switzerland is responsible to carry out the procedure according to the Dublin Regulation. The SEM authorises entry into the territory if Switzerland is responsible according to the Dublin III Regulation, and if the asylum seeker appears to be at risk under any of the grounds stated in the refugee definition at Article 3(1) AsylA or under threat of inhumane treatment in the country from which he or she has directly arrived; or if the asylum seeker establishes that the country from which he or she has directly arrived would force him or her to return to a country in which he or she appears to be at risk, in violation of the non-refoulement principle. If it cannot immediately be verified if the mentioned conditions are fulfilled, the entry into the territory is temporarily denied.[4] The asylum seeker is then held in a facility within the transit zone of the airport, which in practice functions like detention.[5]

The airport procedure can result in a decision to enter the country (in which case the applicant is channelled into the regular procedure), a negative decision or an inadmissibility decision. The decision has to be taken within 20 days after the application was made. If the procedure takes more time, the SEM has to allocate the asylum seeker to a canton or a federal asylum centre.[6]

In 2019, 219 requests of entry were lodged, out of which 93 in the airport of Geneva and 126 in Zurich. The main countries of origin were Iraq, Turkey, Venezuela, Colombia and Afghanistan. The SEM issued 157 authorisations to enter Switzerland and rejected 62.[7]


Personal interview


In the airport procedure, a first interview will take place in every case. The free legal representative will attend this interview. In Zurich, the airport police conduct the interview, while in Geneva it is the SEM. After having carried out the first interview, the SEM carries out an analysis of the file at the end of which, several scenarios may arise:

  • Transfer for unaccompanied minors under the age of 14 to the federal centre in the region concerned.
  • Immediate introduction of a Dublin procedure.
  • Continuation of the procedure at the airport and holding of an interview on the grounds for asylum. If the asylum seeker has not been allowed to enter Swiss territory, this second interview takes place in the transit zone of the airport in the same modalities as in the regular procedure. (see section on Regular Procedure: Personal Interview).
  • Authorisation to enter Switzerland with or without an interview on the grounds and assignation to the federal centre of the region or to a canton.




Against a decision taken during the airport procedure an appeal can be made for both decision on the merit and decision to dismiss an application within 5 working days.[8] The Federal Administrative Court is the competent appeal authority, similarly to the regular procedure. As in the regular procedure, appeals have automatic suspensive effect, except for Dublin decisions, in which case the person has to ask for suspensive effect (for further information, see sections on Regular Procedure: Appeal and Dublin: Appeal).

Usually, the Court is more lenient regarding appeals that are submitted in another language because the airport procedure does not provide the same options to translate documents as the regular procedure.


Legal assistance


There is no difference considering legal assistance in the regular procedure and the airport procedure (see section on Regular Procedure: Legal Assistance).


[1]Article 21(1) AsylA.

[2] Article 22 AsylA and Article 12 AO1.

[3] Article 22(5) AsylA.

[4] Article 22(1-bis), (1-ter) and (2) AsylA.

[5] In the facility, movement is very restricted. Nevertheless, the competent Swiss Federal Administrative Court has issued several decisions stating that the stay is not amounting to detention. The Federal Court and academia do not share this legal reasoning.

[6] Article 23(2) AsylA.

[7] Information provided the SEM, 12 February 2020. 

[8]Article 108(3) AsylA and Article 23(1) AsylA.


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