Social assistance for asylum seekers includes basic needs such as food, clothes, transportation and general living costs, in the form of allowance or non-cash benefits, accommodation, health care and other benefits related to specific needs of the person. National law specifically provides for accommodation in a federal or cantonal centre, social benefits in the form of non-cash benefits whenever possible, or vouchers or cash. Limited health insurance also ensures access to medical care according to Article 82a AsylA (see section on Health Care).
The provision of accommodation facilities is governed by Article 28 AsylA, according to which the authorities (SEM or the cantonal authorities) may allocate asylum seekers to a place of stay and provide them with accommodation. The Confederation and the cantons each have their own accommodation facilities, which vary (see Types of Accommodation).
Food and clothing are not specifically mentioned in the law, even though they may be provided in the reception centres. In the federal centres, meals are served 3 times a day, on a regular schedule. Asylum seekers who do not show up at meal time will have to wait for the next service. Cantonal centres have their own systems, depending on the type of accommodation centres and the nature of social benefits (cash or non-cash benefits). The amount of daily financial allowance (including vouchers) varies according to the internal organisation of each centre and to the possibility to receive daily meals in kind. Clothing distribution is also regulated at a local level, in collaboration with NGOs. This support is part of the non-cash benefits of the social assistance.
Asylum seekers are provided with accommodation during the entire procedure. Accommodation is included in the right to social benefits. Asylum seekers do not have a choice regarding the allocated place of stay and will usually be moved from one centre to another during the entire procedure (first after the cantonal allocation, then within the canton according to their individual situation). In most cantons, rejected or dismissed asylum seekers are regrouped in special centres regulated under the emergency aid scheme.
Persons who are staying in Switzerland on the basis of the Asylum Act and who are unable to support themselves with their own resources shall receive social benefits unless third parties are required to support them on the basis of a statutory or contractual obligation, or may request emergency aid. The provision of social benefits is under the responsibility of the Confederation as long as the person is staying in a federal asylum centre. After allocation to a canton, the canton should provide social assistance or emergency aid on the basis of Article 80 AsylA. Fixing of the amount, granting and limiting welfare benefits are regulated by cantonal law when it falls under cantonal responsibility. This results in large differences in treatment among cantons.
Asylum seekers are also entitled to child allowances for children living abroad. These are however withheld during asylum procedures and should be paid only when the asylum seeker is recognised as a refugee or temporarily admitted in accordance with Article 83(3)-(4) FNIA.
Persons subject to a legally binding removal decision for which a departure deadline has been fixed are excluded from receiving social assistance. In fact, this concerns all persons whose asylum application has been rejected (and the appeals deadline expired) as all negative decisions from the SEM include a departure deadline. This exclusion from social assistance also extends to persons in a subsequent procedure (application for re-examination, revision or subsequent application). These persons receive emergency aid on request in case they find themselves in a situation of distress according to Article 12 of the Federal Constitution. In 2019, 7,090 asylum applicants were benefitting from emergency aid in the whole country (6,784 whose applications had been rejected under the ancient procedure, 306 under the new procedure).
Emergency aid consists of minimal cantonal benefits for persons in need and unable to provide for themselves. The Federal Supreme Court has set some basic guidance regarding what emergency aid must entail in order to respect human dignity. But the concrete fixing and granting of the emergency aid is regulated by cantonal law, which results in large differences in treatment between asylum seekers. In some cantons this task is delegated to municipalities or relief organisations. The Confederation compensates cantons for the costs of the emergency aid.
Like social benefits, emergency aid is provided in the form of non-cash benefits wherever possible. Persons under emergency aid are housed in specific shelters (often underground bunkers or containers, with access sometimes restricted to night time), where living conditions are reduced to a minimum and are known to be quite rough. Under emergency aid, people may have to live with around 8 CHF (around 7 Euros) a day, which must cover the expenses for food, transportation, household items and any other needs. This amount is extremely low in comparison with the high living costs in Switzerland. Further restriction is that the entire amount is granted in the form of non-cash benefits or vouchers (which can only be used in one particular supermarket chain), as it is encouraged by the national legislation.
This restriction of reception conditions raises serious problems for asylum seekers whose (subsequent) procedure is still running. Long-term stay under emergency aid is known to be disastrous for the integration and health of asylum seekers, despite the chance of being granted a legal status at the end of the procedure.
In 2019, 6% of the persons with a Dublin decision issued under the new reform have benefitted from emergency aid; 20% of asylum seekers with a negative or dismissal decision taken within the accelerated procedure; and 34% of those with a negative or dismissal decision taken within the extended procedure.
 Article 28 AsylA.
 Articles 81 and 82(3) AsylA. National provisions on social assistance and emergency aid for asylum seekers are in Chapter 5 AsylA. The AO2 on Financial Matters provides important precisions on the financing of welfare benefits.
 Article 81 AsylA.
 Article 3(2) AO2.
 Article 84 AsylA.
 Article 82(1) AsylA.
 Article 82(2) AsylA.
SEM, Rapport de suivi sur la suppression de l’aide sociale: Rapport annuel 2019 / anciens dossiers, available at: https://bit.ly/37Bw6fp; and Rapport annuel 2019 / nouveaux dossiers, available at: https://bit.ly/2WCd961.
 See Muriel Trummer, Bundesgerichtliche Rechtsprechung zur Auslegung der Nothilfe für abgewiesene Asylsuchende, in: ASYL 4/12, 24ff.
 Contact details of cantonal coordination offices for asylum issues are available at: http://bit.ly/1LtvLuH. See also practice in the Canton of Vaud: Guide d’assistance 2013 : recueil du Règlement du 3 décembre 2008 sur l’assistance et l’aide d’urgence octroyées en application de la loi sur l’aide aux requérants d’asile et à certaines catégories d’étrangers et des directives du Département de l’intérieur en la matière / EVAM Etablissement vaudois d’accueil aux migrants, available (in French) at: http://bit.ly/1eGZqTZ.
The compensation scheme has changed fort he applications filed after the 1st March 2019. For details see the 2019 SEM monitoring report on the suppression of social assistance available at: https://bit.ly/37B3d3a.
 For more information on this subject, see Christian Bolliger, Marius Féraud, Büro Vatter AG (Politikforschung & -beratung), La problématique des requérants d’asile déboutés qui perçoivent l’aide d’urgence sur une longue période, Bern, 26 May 2010, available (in French) at: http://bit.ly/1N9NXqE.
 SEM, Rapport de suivi sur la suppression de l’aide sociale: Rapport annuel 2019 / nouveaux dossiers, available at: https://bit.ly/2WCd961.