Access to detention facilities


Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 30/06/23


Swiss Refugee Council Visit Website

Lawyers 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. Journalists are only exceptionally granted access to detention centres. UNHCR would in theory have access to detention centres, but they do not conduct regular visits.[2]

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.[3] This was also reported by the NCPT for the Zurich Airport prison, with the recommendation to cantonal authorities to examine the possibility of visiting hours also on weekends.[4] The Zurich cantonal government has responded in a public statement that this was impossible due to limited resources. According to the prison website, visits are still limited to weekdays.[5]

Administrative detainees have the possibility to make calls using the phones that are placed in detention. If they have no financial means, the facility shall provide for phone cards. According to a recent judgement of the Federal Supreme Court, all detention facilities must provide for the possibility to access the Internet.[6]

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 transit zones at airports.

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 organisation mandated for the region West Switzerland (Caritas Suisse) has 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] Information provided by UNHCR, Office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 13 February 2023.

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

[4] 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, these findings are still relevant in February 2023.

[5] Canton of Zurich, ‘Centre for Administrative Detention under Immigration Law’, available in German at:

[6] Federal Supreme Court, Decision 2C_765/2022, 13 Ocotober 2022.

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