While the Confederation is responsible for setting up and running the six federal asylum centres as well as their related “remote locations”, cantons are in charge of their own reception centres. Asylum applications are lodged exclusively in the federal centres, where the first steps of the procedure take place.
As a general comment on the reception issue, it should be noted that cantonal reception structures were reorganised in 2007, after the FDJP decided to reduce financial allocation to the cantons, based on a temporarily lower number of asylum seekers. Rising numbers of arriving asylum seekers in the following years, and within short periods of time in 2014 and 2015, have presented a challenge to the cantons. Many cantons subsequently had to increase their reception capacity, and the use of underground bunkers increased. However, as the number of asylum seekers have further decreased in 2019, there is currently no longer a challenge regarding reception capacity.
While the Federal Supreme Court held that reception conditions in a civil protection shelter do not violate the human dignity of persons under emergency aid, the situation in such shelters seems largely unsatisfactory for asylum seekers who are still in a procedure. Single men are mostly affected, although there are sometimes also families who are accommodated in bunkers. As asylum claims have notably decreased since 2016, the situation seems to have improved as the average occupancy rate at the end of 2019 was 52% in the six asylum regions.
Below is an overview of the different kinds of centres, principally at the federal level, as cantons all have their own specificities.
Federal asylum centres
After entering Switzerland, persons in need for protection mostly go to one of the 6 federal centres with processing facilities to lodge an asylum application and thereafter, one of the 10 federal asylum centre without processing facilities. Asylum seekers spend the first weeks/months (up to 140 days) in those centres, until they are assigned to a canton).
The centres with processing facilities are the following:
- Altstätten (Canton of St. Gallen);
- Basel (Canton of Basel);
- Boudry (Canton of Neuchâtel);
- Zurich (Canton of Zurich);
- Chiasso (Canton of Ticino); and
- Berne (Canton of Berne).
The accommodation capacity of all the sixteen federal centres was 2,772 beds. In 2019, the average occupancy rate of the six federal centres with processing facilities was 77.6%.
The running of the centres and security matters are entrusted to private companies. The federal asylum centres can be described as semi-closed, as the hours when asylum seekers may leave and return are limited. For more information, see section on Freedom of Movement.
In addition to the 10 federal centres without processing facilities in activity at the end of 2019, there are still a number of cantonal structures, whose condition and organisation can vary considerably from one canton to another. While in February 2016, there were approximately 20 remote locations in different regions, their number was only 12 at the beginning of 2017.
Most of the remote locations are located in former military shelters. Federal military buildings and installations may be used without cantonal or communal authorisation to accommodate asylum seekers for a maximum of three years provided the change in use does not require substantial structural measures and there is no significant change in the occupancy of the installation or building. The National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) considers that these military installations are only suitable for short stays of up to three weeks. As in the federal asylum centres, the regime is semi-closed.
With the significant drop in asylum applications over the last 3 years, several cantonal structures have been closed. Reception and accommodation conditions nevertheless still seem unsatisfactory.
Specific centres for uncooperative asylum seekers
The opening of specific centres for uncooperative asylum seekers is foreseen by the Asylum Act under Article 24a and Article 15 OA1. The first specific centre opened its doors in Les Verrières, Canton of Neuchâtel but was temporarly closed on 1 September 2019 after nine months with in average two inhabitants. Plans for a second specific centre were put on hold because of the low numbers of asylum applications. The question of a possible re-opening of the centre will be evaluated in spring 2020, according to the SEM (for more information and a definition of specific centres, see section on Reduction or Withdrawal of Reception Conditions).
Reception centres at the cantonal level
Each canton has its own reception system that usually includes several types of housing (collective centre, family apartment, home for unaccompanied children, etc. Generally, asylum seekers will be placed in shelters according to the type of procedure they go through (i.e. the supposed length of their stay in Switzerland) and on their personal situation (family, unaccompanied children, vulnerable persons, single men, etc.)
Many cantons organise the accommodation structure in 2 phases: the first one in collective shelters, the second in private accommodation. The moment asylum seekers are transferred in individual accommodation depends on the canton of allocation and its accommodation capacity.
Federal Court, Decision 8C_912/2012, 22 November 2013. For a comment on that decision, see Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights, ‘Héberger un requérant d’asile débouté dans des abris de protection civile est conforme au droit’, 12 March 2014, available (in French) at: http://bit.ly/1CsdPrX.
 Information provided by the SEM, 12 February 2020.
 Legal provisions related to the management of the reception and processing centres are in the Asylum Act, the Ordinance of the FDJP on the management of federal reception centres in the field of asylum and internal regulations of the registration centres. Further information is available on the website of the SEM, at: http://bit.ly/1dfDc9V.
 The person is transferred to the centre without processing facilities in principle, when the main investigative measures requiring the presence of the applicant (mainly hearings) have been carried out or, in the case of a decision, at the expiry of the time limit for appeal.
 Article 24 (4) AsylA.
 Only at Federal level: Calculations based on the information provided by the SEM, 12 February 2020.
 The SEM delegates the task of managing the operation of reception and processing centres to third parties under Article 24b (1) AsylA. Thus, the ORS Service AG (asylum regions Western Switzerland, French speaking Switzerland and Berne) and AOZ Asyl Organisation Zürich (asylum regions Eastern Switzerland, Ticino and Central Switzerland, Zurich) are responsible for running the centres. Security services at the lodges are provided by the companies Securitas AG (asylum regions French speaking Switzerland, Eastern Switzerland, Zurich, Ticino and Central Switzerland) and Protectas SA (asylum regions Western Switzerland and Zurich). Finally, the mandates of patrols operating in the vicinity of the centres have been awarded to three companies: Securitas AG (asylum regions French speaking Switzerland, Zurich) Protectas SA (asylum regions Western Switzerland and Berne) and Verkehrsüberwachung Schweiz (asylum regions Eastern Switzerland and Ticino and Central Switzerland).
 Article 24c AsylA.
 NCPT, Report 2014, 8, para 26.
 Conseil Federal, Asile: Fermeture temporaire du centre spécifique de la Confédération des Verrières, avaiable (in French) at: https://bit.ly/2uu87OK.
 Ibid, 20.