The reception system is organised in two phases: during the first phase – which should not exceed 140 days – asylum applicants are accommodated in federal asylum centres; while upon allocation to a canton, their accommodation is managed at the cantonal level.
Federal asylum centres are of two sorts: each one of the six asylum regions has one centre with processing facilities where the first stages of the procedure are carried out, and one or more centres without processing facilities (so-called “departure centres”) that are mainly used for those persons whose application has been dismissed or rejected and for whom the authorities are organizing a Dublin transfer or removal.
A transfer to cantonal facilities occurs: a) when a person gets a positive decision or a temporary admission within an accelerated procedure; b) when the extended procedure is ordered; c) when a person is accommodated in a federal asylum centre for more than 140 days, even if their application has been dismissed or rejected.
Cantons are in charge of their own reception centres. Usually, asylum seekers and beneficiaries of protection will be first accommodated in collective centres, and at a second stage in shared apartments or private apartments for families. The management of reception centres at cantonal level is very often entrusted to NGOs or private companies. For those rejected asylum seekers who have lost their right to social assistance, the cantons provide for emergency aid shelters (see Forms and levels of material reception conditions).
Below is an overview of the different types of centres, principally at the federal level, as cantons all have their own specificities.
Federal asylum centres
|Overview of the federal asylum centres in 2022|
|Centre||Function||Region||Capacity||Occupancy at end 2022|
|Airport Geneva||Airport processing centre||Romandie||30||3|
|Airport Zurich||Airport processing centre||Zurich||60||6|
|Alstätten||Federal centre with processing facilities||East||340||275|
|Basel||Federal centre with processing facilities||Northwest||536||156|
|Bern||Federal centre with processing facilities||Bern||606||393|
|Boudry||Federal centre with processing facilities||Romandie||684||732|
|Chiasso/Pasture||Federal centre with processing facilities||Ticino & Central||238||155|
|Zurich||Federal centre with processing facilities||Zurich||536||450|
|Embrach||Federal centre without processing facilities||Zurich||360||308|
|Brugg||Federal centre without processing facilities (temporary)||Zurich||440||186|
|Flumenthal||Federal centre without processing facilities||Northwest||300||192|
|Giffers||Federal centre without processing facilities||Romandie||300||289|
|Vallorbe||Federal centre without processing facilities||Romandie||280||263|
|Kappelen||Federal centre without processing facilities||Bern||328||187|
|Kreuzlingen||Federal centre without processing facilities||East||320||279|
|Sulgen||Federal centre without processing facilities (temporary)||East||70||47|
|Glaubenberg||Federal centre without processing facilities (temporary)||Ticino & Central||640||279|
|Les Verrières||Special centre||Romandie||20||7|
Source: SEM, https://bit.ly/3vUBCFn; data provided by the SEM, 1 May 2023.
Federal asylum centres are divided into two categories: those with processing facilities and those without. Each of the six asylum regions s one federal centre with processing facilities and at least one without. Persons in need of protection should lodge their asylum application in one of the 6 federal centres with processing facilities. Following the application, the SEM can decide to allocate them to one of the other five centres. In principle, asylum seekers remain in these centres during a few weeks or months, until they are either assigned to a canton or transferred to a federal asylum centre without processing facilities (also called “departure centres”). The maximum length of stay in federal asylum centres – be it with or without processing facilities – is 140 days, whereby this length can be exceeded by a few days. In 2022, the average length of stay in federal asylum centres was 71 days.
In some special cases, the SEM can allow asylum seekers to join their family members in a private accommodation. No statistics are available on the number of requests for private accommodation made by asylum seekers and no data was provided regarding private housings used in 2022.
On 25 October 2022, the SEM stated that the federal asylum centres were approaching saturation due to the increasing arrivals of asylum seekers as well as the ongoing arrival of Ukrainian nationals in search of protection. According to media reports, the centre of Boudry was at that time accommodating 900 people whereas it has a capacity of 700, and people were forced to sleep in common spaces or in the corridor of the centres. In order to increase the reception capacity, the SEM reallocated some spaces in the ordinary centres into dormitories and opened about 20 temporary federal asylum centres, increasing the capacity at federal level to over 10,000 places. At the same time, the SEM has taken some measures to reduce the number of residents in federal centres: it implemented some measures to accelerate asylum procedures and it exceptionally attributed some asylum seekers to the cantons suspending their asylum procedure.
Most temporary asylum centres opened by the SEM belong to the army and consist in either military barracks or military multi-purpose or sports halls. In the latter case, some curtains have been installed to provide for smaller dorms, but the personal and family sphere cannot be adequately respected in such big spaces that were not planned as accommodation. Furthermore, in at least two of the six asylum regions, the SEM has resorted to underground civil protection shelters as temporary federal asylum centres. On 16 December 2022, the SEM communicated again that more military buildings were to be temporarily used as reception centres and that the army was going to provide for further support in the areas of logistics and transportation, but not assistance nor security. Given the acute lack of personnel, civil servants are also providing support in assistance tasks. At its meeting of 1 February 2023, the Federal Council adopted the corresponding report for the parliament’s attention. Parliament will decide on this deployment of the army in the spring session 2023.
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.
Federal asylum centres with processing facilities
The centres with processing facilities are the following, one for each of six asylum regions:
- Altstätten (Canton of St. Gallen, Region Eastern Switzerland);
- Basel (Canton of Basel, Region North-Western Switzerland);
- Boudry (Canton of Neuchâtel, French-speaking Region);
- Zurich (Canton of Zurich, Zurich Region);
- Chiasso/Pasture (Canton of Ticino, Region Ticino & Central Switzerland); and
- Berne (Canton of Berne, Bern Region).
Federal asylum centres without processing facilities (“departure centres”)
In addition to the federal asylum centres with processing facilities, where the asylum procedures are conducted, there are other federal asylum centres without processing facilities, also called “departures centres”, where asylum applicants are usually transferred when they are subject to a Dublin or a negative decision. This can occur either before the final decision (when the main investigative measures requiring the presence of the applicant have been conducted), or after the expiry of the time limit to appeal. These centres mainly house people who have to leave Switzerland within a short period of time and therefore are not transferred to the cantonal asylum centres, unless they cannot be removed from Switzerland within the set period of 140 days.
Each asylum region has at least one departure centre. Currently the centres without processing facilities operating are located in Kreuzlingen, Sulgen, Embrach, Glaubenberg, Giffers, Vallorbe, Kappelen, Flumenthal, Allschwil, Reinach, Embrach and Brugg.
Most of these centres are situated in remote and isolated locations, which is highly problematic both because those residing there are practically denied contact with the outside world, leading to social exclusion, and because they are prevented from finding a legal representative to appeal a negative decision, in cases where the mandated legal representation is not willing to file an appeal. The restriction of movement due to isolation is further exacerbated by the precarious financial situation of most asylum seekers who cannot afford public transportation.
Furthermore, part of these centres are located in former military shelters. This is the case of the centre of Glaubenberg, for example. 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 NCPT considers that these military installations are only suitable for short stays of up to three weeks. Like in the federal asylum centres with processing facilities, the regime is semi-closed.
Special centres for uncooperative asylum seekers
Special centres for uncooperative asylum seekers are foreseen by the Asylum Act under Article 24a and Article 15 OA1. The only is located in Les Verrières, Canton of Neuchâtel. According to the information of the SEM of May 2023, discussion for a second special centre are ongoing (for more information and a definition of special centres, see section on Reduction or Withdrawal of Reception Conditions).
Reception centres at the cantonal level
After the maximum of 140 days spent in federal asylum centres, asylum applicants and beneficiaries of protection are allocated to one of the 26 cantons and are transferred to a cantonal reception facility. Each canton has its own accommodation system that usually includes several types of housing (collective centre, family apartment, private accommodation with host families, centre for unaccompanied children, etc.).
Many cantons organise the accommodation structure in 2 phases: the first one in collective shelters, the second in private accommodation. There are different forms of collective shelters, the most common one being former hospitals and hotels or former public institutions like schoolhouses or juvenile homes. As a result of the increase in refugees from the Ukraine, many cantons needed to create additional space in 2022. At least nine cantons are planning container settlements for this purpose or have already built some. Others started to use multipurpose halls with tents inside or are repurposing former office rooms. A few cantons called for help from the civil protection and opened up some subterranean collective shelters in civil defence facilities. These shelters are particularly problematic, since the asylum seekers need to live underground for an uncertain amount of time. Even though the cantons try to limit the duration to a few days or weeks, the actual stay can be longer according to the general housing capacity for refugees in the respective canton. Most cantons are prepared to reopen the underground facilities as an urgency measure, if their regular housing capacity is exceeded.
The moment asylum seekers are transferred to an individual accommodation depends on the canton of allocation and its accommodation capacity. In most cases, asylum seekers may change from one accommodation system to another according to the stage of their procedure (i.e. the reception of a provisory admission or refugee status, the length of their stay in Switzerland or the degree of their integration). Additionally, their personal situation may be taken into account (family, unaccompanied children, vulnerable persons, single men, etc.). Women and children are usually not placed in underground facilities.
In the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the private accommodation with host families became quite common. Most cantons opened up this possibility for persons with protection status S, without them having to live in collective shelters before, so they could gain some time in creating more places for refugees. Some cantons still continue with this practice and are willing to grant private accommodation with host families to people with different status, while most of the cantons returned to the regular system with two phases.
 Legal provisions related to the management of the federal asylum 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 house rules of the registration centres. Further information is available on the website of the SEM, at: https://bit.ly/3lxIbMj.
 Article 24 (4) AsylA.
 Data provided by the SEM, 1 May 2023.
 Although the latter do not go through a normal asylum procedure, they are also accommodated during a few days in the Federal asylum centres for their registration before being attributed to a canton.
 SEM, Les centres fédéraux pour requérants d’asile frôlent la saturation – des départs anticipés pour les cantons s’imposent, 25 October 2022, https://bit.ly/3vy75gt. The early attribution during the asylum procedure stopped on 15 December 2022.
 Federal Council, Soutien au SEM: le Conseil fédéral adopte le message relatif au service d’appui de l’armée dans le domaine de l’asile, press release, 1 February 2023, available in French (and German and Italian) at : https://bit.ly/3lwQcB3.
 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).
 Those are actually two centres, both temporary, and located separately from the SEM and legal protection offices.
 Coalition des juristes indépendant-e-s pour le droit d’asile, ibid., 11, ch. 4.2.5.
 Article 24c AsylA.
 NCPT, Report 2014, 8, para 26.
 It opened in December 2018, but was temporarily closed on 1 September 2019 after nine months with in average two inhabitants: Conseil Federal, Asile: Fermeture temporaire du centre spécifique de la Confédération des Verrières, available in French (and German and Italian) at: https://bit.ly/2uu87OK. During 2020, the centre was not in function, in February 2021 the SEM has decided to reopen it due to the presence of applicants allegedly disturbing the functioning of the centres or endangering their security. SEM, Communication of 2 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3rzOwV8. According to the NCPT report on federal asylum centres published on January 2021, between April and September 2019, only ten asylum applicants have been assigned to this centre, 19.