The report was last updated in April 2021.
- Key asylum statistics: In 2021, a total of 14,928 persons applied for international protection in Switzerland, which marks a slight increase compared to 11,041 applicants in 2020. Most applications were lodged by nationals from Afghanistan (3,079), Turkey (2,330), Eritrea (2,029), Syria (1,024) and Algeria (1,012). The recognition rate at first instance stood at 78% (i.e. 48% refugee protection and 30% temporary admission), compared to 76% in 2020. It reached up to 97% for Afghans, 90% for Turks and 91% for Eritreans. The backlog of pending cases at the end of the year was 4,438, which marks an increase compared to 3,852 pending cases in 2020.
- Evaluation of the “new procedure”: All asylum applications lodged after 1 March 2019 are handled according to the asylum reform either in the Dublin procedure, the accelerated procedure (which should not exceed 140 days including appeal and removal procedure) or the extended procedure (which should not exceed one year including appeal and removal procedure). Asylum seekers subjected to the extended procedures are attributed to cantons, while accelerated procedures are carried out entirely in federal asylum centres. This new procedure has been evaluated externally by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights (SCHR). The report, published in August 2021, found that complex cases are still too often handled in accelerated proceedings. Insufficient clarification of the facts too often leads to incorrect triage. Further, the evaluation found serious deficiencies in every third asylum decision of the SEM, such as insufficient clarification of the facts and procedural errors. Too many asylum decisions continue to be sent back to the SEM for reassessment. According to the figures of the Federal Administrative Court, the rejection rate has decreased from 18.3% (2019) to 11.9% (2020). However, the cassation rate was still more than twice as high as before the system change, when the rate averaged 4.8% for the years 2007-2018.
- Increase of arrivals at the eastern border with Austria: In autumn 2021, there was a significant increase of persons entering Switzerland at the eastern border with Austria (691 persons only in July and August, compared to 224 from January until June). Most of them were minors from Afghanistan. Instead of asking for asylum, they claimed that they want to reach France or the United Kingdom.
- Measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic: The pandemic has not triggered any suspension of the asylum procedure and registration remained open at all times throughout 2021. The Ordinance on Measures taken in the Field of Asylum due to Coronavirus (Ordinance COVID-19 Asylum), in force since April 2020, foresees the limitation of the number of persons present in the same room during the interview. The SEM officer and the asylum seeker are in the same room, while the interpreter, the minute keeper and the legal advisor can be situated in another room and participate in the interview through appropriate technical means (mainly audio transmission). The Ordinance, which will be in force at least up until 31 December 2022, has extended the time limit for lodging an appeal from 7 working days to 30 days for decisions taken under the accelerated procedure. This extension does not apply to inadmissibility decisions, including Dublin decisions, for which the appeal still needs to be filed within five working days. Further, in September 2021, the Swiss Parliament approved a compulsory Covid-19-test to avoid rejected asylum seekers preventing their deportation by refusing to take the test.
- Airport procedure modified in Zurich: The airport procedure in Zurich was modified in March 2020. Since then, persons expressing the will to claim asylum are oriented towards the federal asylum centre of Zurich.
- Data on mobile phones: On 15 September 2021, the Swiss Parliament agreed for immigration officials to access people’s mobile data if it is the only way to verify their identity. Lawmakers cite the fact that most people who request asylum in Switzerland enter without documents proving their identity. The Swiss Refugee Council and UNHCR criticised the measure as disproportionate and an assault on privacy rights.
- The health concept implemented by the SEM in French-speaking Switzerland prohibits direct contacts between legal representation and health professionals, both inside and outside the federal centres and in 2021, the situation deteriorated as the legal representatives were forbidden even to contact the infirmary, except for organizational requests like a date for an appointment date. Otherwise, they are only allowed to communicate through the SEM. The prohibition of direct and effective communication between medical staff and legal representation is worrying as it should ensure adequate care and a complete establishment of the relevant facts, especially in the context of an accelerated procedure.
- Response to the situation in Afghanistan: Applications for international protection lodged prior to the takeover of the Taliban were still being examined, will the cases lodged after that were frozen – i.e. mainly the cases of persons with a social network in Kabul, Herat or Mazar-i-Sharif were not decided. The authorities (SEM) informed that they first need to analyse the new situation before making new decisions or a change of practice, this analysis is still pending in April 2022. This applies also for re-examination cases. The practice regarding humanitarian visa from Afghanistan has been very strict in 2021, out of 7,800 applications, only 3 were granted until October 2021. Only 500 applications for humanitarian visa were fully examined until the end of 2021, of which 37 were admitted and 463 rejected.
- Response to the situation in Ukraine: For the first time since its creation, the so-called Status S was activated by the Federal Council on 11 March 2022. The status shows some parallels to the EU Temporary Protection Status. It is provided to a certain category of persons (listed below) without undergoing an asylum procedure. Only in obvious cases of asylum grounds (it remains to be seen what “obvious” means), access to the asylum procedure is granted. The status allows immediate access to the labour market as well as freedom of movement within Europe. Protection status applies to the following categories of persons:
- Ukrainian citizens seeking protection and their family members (partners, underage children and other close relatives and who were fully or partially supported at the time of the escape) who were resident in Ukraine before 24 February 2022
- Persons seeking protection of other nationalities and stateless persons as well as their family members as defined in letter a who have applied for international or national protection status in Ukraine prior to 24 February 2022;
- Protection seekers of other nationalities and stateless persons as well as their family members as defined in letter a, who are in possession of a valid short stay or residence permit giving them a valid right of residence in Ukraine and who cannot be returned to their home countries in safety and permanently.
- Violence in reception: During 2020, there were a number of cases in which violence escalated in the federal asylum centres. A former federal judge was mandated to carry out an independent investigation into these incidents. The report was published in November 2021 and it concluded that undue coercion was used in individual cases in which criminal investigations had also been initiated. The accusation of systemic disregard for the rights of asylum seekers and of torture was dismissed. The report recommended amongst other points abstaining from delegating crucial security tasks to private security firms.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Lack of access to legal representation in detention: Under the new asylum procedure, all asylum seekers are systematically assigned a legal representative. This is still not the case, in practice, for people lodging asylum applications while in detention or in prison. Despite case law of the Federal Administrative Court, most recently of November 2021, finding that legal representation must be guaranteed in those cases, the SEM still does not systematically provide for legal representation in the asylum procedure. Access to legal advice and representation concerning the ordering of immigration detention also remains a critical point as national law does not provide for legal representation in detention procedures and access to legal advice is very limited in practice.
- On 15 September 2021 federal Parliament agreed to introduce mandatory COVID-19 tests, by amending the Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (AIG). COVID-19 tests can be carried out even against a person’s will for persons obliged to leave the country, if host countries and airlines require a negative test result for their deportation. Medical experts, doctors and NGOs criticised the compulsory test as legally and medically irresponsible. It is further seen as a disproportionate instrumental intervention in the human body and thus violates the right to physical integrity.
- Frontex: The Swiss Parliament has backed a greater commitment to Frontex, the European Border and Coastguard Agency. At the end of September 2021, lawmakers approved an increase in Switzerland’s contribution to Frontex, from 14 million CHF (EUR. 13.5 million) to 61 million CHF (EUR 59 million) by 2027. The funding increase and commitment to deploy more Swiss staff is meant to contribute to the Agency’s ambition of building up a standing corps of 10,000 border guards by 2027, to “fight against cross-border crime”, and to more swiftly return irregularly-staying third country nationals. The move saw opposition from some commentators and a referendum was lodged, which will be voted on by the Swiss people on 15 May 2022.
 Swiss Refugee Council, press release of 15 September, available in French (and German) at: https://bit.ly/3q21ZqH; see also the communication of ECRE available in English at: https://bit.ly/3oprHU6.
 Information provided by the SEM, 1 April 2022.
 BBl 2022 586; “Allgemeinverfügung zur Gewährung des vorübergehenden Schutzes im Zusammenhang mit der Situation in der Ukraine”, published by the Federal Council on 11 March 2022.
 See Schweizerische Ärztezeitung, Zwangsanwendung für Covid-19-Tests bei Ausreisepflichtigen, 15 September 2021, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3qM8CxX; Swiss Refugee Council, Statement Änderung des AIG: Covid-19-Test bei der Ausschaffung, 6 July 2021, available in German (and French) at: https://bit.ly/3nGn4Wo.