Types of accommodation


Country Report: Types of accommodation Last updated: 10/07/24


Swiss Refugee Council Visit Website

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 or communal 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.[1] 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[2]

Overview of the federal asylum centres in 2023
Centre Function Region Capacity Occupancy at end 2023
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: data provided by the SEM.

Federal asylum centres are divided into two categories: those with processing facilities and those without. Each of the six asylum regions are provided with 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”).[3] 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 80 days.[4]

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.

Since Autumn 2022, the SEM has activated an emergency plan to cope with increasing numbers of asylum applications as well as the ongoing arrival of Ukrainian nationals in search of protection. In this framework, a large number of temporary centres have been opened, increasing the accommodation capacity at federal level from the ordinary 5,000 to approximately 11,000 places. In August 2023, anticipating a further rise in asylum applications, the Federal Council presented its plan to build four container villages for around 3,000 people on army land. The project was definitively rejected by the Council of States, as the use of civil protection shelters was presented during the parliamentary debates as a viable and allegedly cheaper alternative solution.

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 several cases, the SEM has resorted to underground civil protection shelters as temporary federal asylum centres.

The running of the centres and security matters are entrusted to private companies.[5] The federal asylum centres can be described as semi-closed, as the hours when asylum seekers may leave and return are limited.[6] 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[7] (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.

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.[8] 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, some of these centres (such as the Glaubenberg centre) 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.[9] 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 one is located in Les Verrières, Canton of Neuchâtel. According to the information of the SEM as of May 2023, discussions 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 usually 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.). Additionally, in some cantons the housing is almost entirely in the responsibility of the communities.

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 and 2023. At least eleven cantons are planning container settlements for this purpose or have already built some. Since 2022, container settlements are also used increasingly often on the communal level in those cantons, where the communities are responsible. Other forms of temporary or emergency shelters include multipurpose halls with tents inside or the repurposing of former office rooms. Most of the cantons prepared subterranean collective shelters in civil defence facilities for usage if needed, in at least eight cantons they are already in use. 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 weeks, the actual stay can be longer according to the general housing capacity for refugees in the respective canton. Most cantons are prepared to (re)open more underground facilities as an urgency measure, if their regular housing capacity is exceeded. Difficulties particularly arose in the housing of unaccompanied children. Many cantons reported having troubles in finding enough suitable buildings for their housing, since the requirements the centres need to fulfil are usually higher than for others.

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.




[1] See Camilla Alberti, Privatisation: Les enjeux autour de la délégation de l’asile. Qui profite de qui?, Vivre Ensemble no 167, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2LEMjs8.

[2] 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.

[3] Article 24 (4) AsylA.

[4] Data provided by the SEM, March 2024.  

[5] 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).

[6] Here are some information provided from the SEM for asylum seekers in the federal asylum centres in several languages: https://bit.ly/3vqWns9.

[7] Those are actually two centres, both temporary, and located separately from the SEM and legal protection offices.

[8] Coalition des juristes indépendant-e-s pour le droit d’asile, ibid., 11, ch. 4.2.5.

[9] Article 24c AsylA.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection