Reception centres are only accessible for asylum seekers. They are in principle not open to the public. In 2020, access to reception centres was further restricted in the context of COVID-19.
Family members and other visitors
In the federal centres, asylum seekers may receive visitors with the agreement of the staff, as long as the visitor can prove the existence of links with the asylum applicant. Visits are allowed every day from 2:00pm to 8:00pm, only in rooms provided for this purpose. The SEM can change the visit schedule for organisational reasons. Visitors have to check in with the reception desk on arrival and departure and identify themselves. They are subjected to the same security rules as asylum seekers. The staff in charge of security is therefore empowered to search them and seize dangerous objects and alcoholic beverages for the duration of their visit. According to the most recent report of the NCPT, not all federal asylum centres have actually arranged a visitors’ room.
Federal reception centres are equipped with public telephones, as well as internet. Telephone cards must be bought by asylum seekers from their own limited budget. It should also be noted that there are usually very few public telephones available for about 300 asylum seekers, which makes access sometimes difficult, while also the noise levels can make a proper conversation very difficult. Swiss legislation does not allow asylum seekers to sign a cell phone contract in their own name, unless they have a residence permit in Switzerland.
In theory, legal representatives could enter the federal asylum centre during visiting hours. This access is granted as the legal representation is foreseen by the law. However, in practice, applicants get appointments at the offices of the legal representation, which implies that access to legal representation varies depending on the geographical location of the infrastructure and transport modalities. To the best of our knowledge and with some exceptions (e.g. the federal centre in Zurich), the legal protection has no direct access to the accommodation buildings (see chapter on Regular procedure).
NGOs and civil society organisations
Church representatives can access the federal asylum centres during the opening hours on presentation of accreditation. The national law does not make any specific reference to the access of NGOs. If necessary, it should be possible to arrange a visit with the SEM upon prior request.
The Ordinance of the FDJP states that the SEM must take organisational measures to encourage exchanges between asylum seekers and civil society actors. The platform ZiAB provides support to groups of volunteers intervening and proposing activities in or near federal asylum centres.
 Article 3 Ordinance of the FDJP.
 Article 16 Ordinance of the FDJP.
 NCPT, Report on federal asylum centres 2019-2020, January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3jEAb72, p. 37, ch. 161.
 Article 13 Ordinance of the FDJP.
 Article 7 Ordinance of the FDJP.
 Plattform “Zivilgesellschaft in Asyl-Bundeszentren”, https://bit.ly/33m7uEs. List of volunteering groups available at https://bit.ly/37Ri8WY.