Access to detention facilities


Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 14/05/21


Swiss Refugee Council Visit Website

Lawyers and UNHCR have access to detention centres. Family members have access during visiting hours. Access is dependent on the rules that apply in the detention centre (“Hausordnung”) and may vary significantly.[1] Regarding the access of NGOs, according to the experience of Amnesty International, a personal authorisation must be obtained in advance in order to visit the facilities. Usually visitors from NGOs need to know and communicate the name of the person they want to visit.

The visiting hours represent a hurdle for the effective access of family members to detention centres. Many detention facilities allow visits on weekdays only. This is for example the case in the Regional Prison of Bern and the Regional Prison of Moutier according to their Websites.[2] This was also reported by NCPT for the Zurich Airport prison, with the recommendation to cantonal authorities to examine the possibility of visiting hours also on weekends.[3] The Zurich cantonal government has responded in a public statement that this was impossible due to limited resources. The NCPT has also made the same remark and recommendation to the Canton Graubünden regarding Realta in 2017, but it is not clear whether the visiting hours have changed since. During 2020, the possibility to receive visits was significantly reduced as a consequence of measures taken to prevent COVID-19 infections, violating the rights of detainees.[4]

As regards airport transit zones, third parties are usually not allowed to visit. Church representatives can access the centre on presentation of their accreditation as long as they announce their arrival and departure with the staff running the holding centre in the transit zone. IOM has access to the detention centres.

Since the introduction of the new asylum procedure on 1 March 2019, persons who apply for asylum at the airport and are confined in the transit area systematically get free legal representation like all other asylum seekers (see also Section on Border procedure (border and transit zones). The organisations mandated for the region Zurich (RBS Bern) and West Switzerland (Caritas Suisse) have access to the transit zones and have a regular presence there for the relevant steps of the procedure.

[1]   The visiting rights and the concrete modus is also taken up by the NCPT in its reports.

[2] Sicherheitsdirektion, Besucherinformationen, available (in German) at:; Direction de la sécurité, Informations aux visiteurs, available (in French) at :

[3] NCPT, Report to the Government of the Canton of Zurich regarding a follow-up visit of 14 April 2016 to the administrative detention section of the airport prison Zurich, 8 November 2016, no 25.

[4] This was the case during several months in the Zurich airport prison, for example. Information provided by Asylex (program Detention), e-mail of 25.01.2021.

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