Article 81(3) FNA states that detention conditions must take into account the needs of vulnerable persons, unaccompanied children and families with children, and that detention conditions must be in line with Articles 16(3) and 17 of the Return Directive. Federal law does not provide any more detailed preconditions for detention conditions, as detention is normally (with the rare exception of detention ordered directly at one of the 6 federal initial reception centres) ordered at the cantonal level and lies in these cases fully within the competence of the respective cantons.
Conditions in specialised facilities, prisons and pre-trial facilities
Detained asylum seekers have access to health care in practice. As asylum seekers are as a rule detained in detention centres for pre-trial detention and/or criminal detention, the health care provided is generally at an acceptable level.
Differences between the cantons are huge with regard to e.g. the treatment of detainees, the cantonal legal basis for ordering and reviewing detention orders, the use of prisons or special facilities and many more aspects. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide an overview of the practice in the cantons at this stage.
As some punctual examples, the following remarks made by the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) after its visits to several prisons can be mentioned:
According to NCPT, freedom of movement of foreigners in administrative detention should be granted as a matter of principle in all detention facilities; detention cells should be open without time limitation and stay closed only during the night. Moreover, the possibility of free internet access should be studied and the possibility to use mobile telephones should be permitted within certain limits. Concerning the prison facilities of Frambois, Favra and Realta, NCPT suggests disciplinary measures should be regulated and controlled. Concerning Favra and Realta, information about rights and obligations should be more accessible for the detainees through flyers in most used languages; occupational programmes should be offered to the detainees.
Frambois and Favra: NCPT has found that the regime in these facilities has not the same character of criminal detention, but still recommends that the concerned persons have access to a medical screening in the first 24 hours. In Favra, which will be closed in the medium term due to its old structure, exists the need to grant an access to the exterior facilities and to work on a suicide prevention concept.
Bässlergut: NCPT has seen improvements, but still suggests to take measures in order to protect the health of the detainees e.g. protection against passive smoke or prevention of suicidal risk through psychiatric care and accommodation in adequate facilities. Although some improvement can be noted, the facility has still a strong criminal detention facility character.
Realta: NCPT has expressed its concerns in relation to the cell opening hours, the impossibility to have visits during weekend, the removal of personal clothes at entrance, the absence of compliance in relation to the courtyard and the necessity of medical screening at entrance.
Granges: NCPT has expressed severe concerns because the national and international standards of detention condition are not met in this facility. Accommodation of women, especially pregnant women, are not acceptable as there is no department for women and most of the guards are men.
In 2015, the UN Committee against Torture stated in its recommendations that Switzerland must continue its efforts to create specialised structures for administrative detention in all cantons, with a regime that is adapted to its purpose.
Conditions in airport transit zones
Conditions in the transit zones are known to be minimal. Asylum seekers may move freely in the transit area. They are entitled to a daily walk outdoors, even though the walk is restricted in time (one hour a day) and in space (in Geneva, it is a square of 60m2). There is no occupation programme in the transit areas, neither for adults, nor for children.
A project of construction of a new reception area at the airport of Geneva is strongly criticised by UNHCR and the independent organisation for defence of asylum seekers present at the airport (Elisa-Asile). Mostly contested are the complete isolation of asylum seekers (considered as detention by UNHCR) and the difficulties of access for third persons, especially legal representatives.