Border procedure (border and transit zones)


Country Report: Border procedure (border and transit zones) Last updated: 30/06/23


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General (scope, time limits)

Switzerland has no land border with third countries other than 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.[2]

There is a special procedure for people who ask for asylum at the airport. Persons who lodge their asylum application at the airport often do so after having been arrested by the airport police because they were found in possession of fake travel documents. In Geneva, in some cases they are prosecuted for illegal entry and brought to the police post in the city, where they spend one night before going back to the airport to start the asylum procedure. It should be further noted that, during the airport procedure, applicants are not considered as having entered the national territory.

If a person arrives at the international airport of Geneva and claims asylum, the airport police records the personal details, takes their fingerprints and photographs and immediately informs the SEM of the asylum application.[3] The asylum seeker receives a flyer with information on the airport procedure. The SEM decides whether to authorise entry into Swiss territory within two working days. If it temporarily denies entry, asylum seekers are allocated a place of stay in the transit zone of the airport where they can be held for a maximum of 60 days, which constitutes de facto detention see Detention of Asylum Seekers).[4] Since the pandemic, the number of asylum applications submitted at Geneva airport has decreased significantly, in 2022, there were 77 asylum applications. In 2022, the SEM continued to authorise the entry of applicants from countries such as Türkiye, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, when they do not have a “Eurodac hit” (or a “Greece hit”) so that their hearings can be conducted in the federal asylum centre in Boudry.

The SEM examines if Switzerland is responsible to carry out the procedure according to the Dublin Regulation. They shall authorise 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 they directly arrived; or if the asylum seeker establishes that the country from which they have directly arrived would force them to return to a country in which they appear to be at risk, in violation of the non-refoulement principle. If it cannot immediately be verified if the mentioned conditions are fulfilled, entry into the territory is temporarily denied.[5]

The airport procedure can result in a decision granting access to the territory (in which case the applicant is channelled into the regular procedure), a negative in-merit decision or an inadmissibility decision (e.g. Dublin or safe third country).[6] The decision has to be taken within 20 days after the application was made. If the procedure takes more time, the SEM has to authorise entry, in which case the applicant is usually attributed to the extended procedure and allocated to a canton, but they can also be allocated to a federal asylum centre for an accelerated procedure.[7] If the procedure ends with a removal decision, the applicant can be held in the transit zone for a maximum of 60 days (since the application). If the removal has not been enforced after 60 days, the persons concerned can be transferred to an immigration administrative detention centre, in practice, they are led to the competent cantonal authorities who decide whether to detain them or provide them with emergency aid.[8]

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.[9]

According to data provided by the SEM, in the whole year 2022 296 (compared to 170 in 2021) requests for entry were lodged. The main countries of origin were Türkiye (32 cases in Geneva, 27 in Zurich) and Cuba (40 cases in Zurich). The SEM issued 275 authorisations to enter Switzerland.[10]


Personal interview

In the airport procedure in Geneva, a first interview with the SEM takes place in the SEM offices situated in the detention centre in the transit area.At the end of 2022, there are two SEM employees responsible for hearings at the airport. They work mainly in the federal asylum centre in Boudry but are seconded to Geneva to conduct the hearings. If necessary, the SEM can deploy other staff from Boudry. A legal representative is present during the interview. There is always an interpreter present in the interview. After having the first interview, the SEM carries out an analysis of the file, after which they can decide to authorise entry, introduce a Dublin procedure implicating the Dublin unit, or continue the airport procedure with the organisation of an interview on the grounds for asylum.

In Zurich, no airport procedure has taken place since the lockdown in March 2020, people are directly referred to the federal centre in Zurich.



The decision to deny entry in Switzerland and be placed in the transit zone can be appealed in so far that the SEM has not yet notified the negative or dismissal decision.[11]

The applicant or their legal representative can also appeal against a decision taken within the airport procedure, be it a decision on the merit or a decision to dismiss an application. Such appeal must be introduced within 5 working days.[12] The Federal Administrative Court is the competent appeal authority, similarly to the regular procedure. As in the regular procedure, appeals have automatic suspensive effect,[13] 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).[14]

If the Federal Administrative Court accepts an asylum seeker’s appeal against a decision to deny entry, a negative or dismissal decision, the SEM has to authorise entry and directly allocate the person concerned either to a federal asylum centre or to a canton.[15]


Legal assistance

Similar to ordinary asylum procedures, the airport procedure foresees that applicants are assigned a legal representative since the beginning of the procedure for free, unless the asylum applicant explicitly renounces it.

Upon registration of the asylum application, the SEM informs the legal representation, which will contact the applicant within two days to conduct a first counselling interview.[16] In practice, and due to work overload, the legal representation often prepares the applicant on the day of the hearing. However, two Caritas telephone numbers are given to applicants on arrival, one to send in their evidence, and the other to ask questions or contact their legal representation.[17] The legal representative will also attend the interviews carried out in the context of the airport procedure and meet the applicants in advance to prepare them for the interview. There is no main difference regarding legal assistance in the regular procedure and the airport procedure (see section on Regular Procedure: Legal Assistance). According to a legal representative working in Geneva, the fact that sometimes the two interviews (summary and on the grounds for asylum) are conducted on the same day makes it difficult to prepare their clients. The fast pace of the airport procedure also poses some challenges to the provider of legal representation at the organisational level.

Caritas Switzerland is responsible for the legal representation at Geneva airport. Differently from the situation in federal asylum centres, there is no fix or regular presence of these organisations at the airport but they punctually go to the airport for interviews or meetings with the asylum seekers. The organisation providing legal assistance has their own offices situated in the detention centre. Differently from the ordinary procedure, the legal representative will also take on the task of legal counsellors. According to Caritas, asylum applicants in Geneva have access to their legal representation through the phone. The legal representatives are also able to talk to their clients on the phone when needed and the private company running the centre, ORS, facilitates the contact.




[1] Article 23 AsylA.

[2] Article 21(1) AsylA.

[3] Article 22 AsylA and Article 12 AO1.

[4] Article 22(5) AsylA.

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

[6] Article 23(1) AsylA. See also SEM, Manuel Asile et Retour, chapter C2, p. 6-7.

[7] Article 23(2) AsylA.

[8] SEM, Handbook on Asylum and Return, chapter C2, available in French at, 9.

[9] SEM, Manuel Asile et Retour, chapter C2, p. 4, available in French at: Due to the emerging pandemic, air traffic collapsed worldwide at the beginning of 2020, including at Zurich Airport, therefore no more asylum applications were registered there. Even after air traffic gradually resumed, there were only very isolated asylum applications at the airport. Since the resource-intensive operation of the SEM structures at the airport was considered unreasonable under these conditions, the procedures were adapted so as to carry out the few procedures at the nearby Zurich federal asylum centre also in 2022.

[10] Information provided by the SEM, 1 May 2023.

[11] Article 108(3) and (4) AsylA.

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

[13] Article 55(1) APA.

[14] Article 107a AsylA.

[15] Article 23 AsylA; SEM, Handbook on Asylum and Return, chapter C2, available in French at, 8.

[16] Article 7(2) AO 1 and Article 102h AsylA.

[17] Information from Caritas, 19 January 2023.

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