Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 30/06/23


Swiss Refugee Council Visit Website

 Reception in federal asylum centres

As discussed in the chapter on Guarantees for vulnerable groups, national law does not define the categories of persons that are considered vulnerable.

In general, all but very complex asylum cases will be assessed and decided (including the appeal) within 140 days in the so-called accelerated procedure. During this time, all asylum seekers (including vulnerable ones) are accommodated in a federal asylum centre with processing facilities or sometimes in a federal asylum centre without processing facilities.[1] Separate housing facilities exclusively reserved for vulnerable asylum seekers are not provided in the accelerated procedure. However, separate buildings, wings, floors or rooms for families, women, minors or other vulnerable persons do exist – albeit to different extents – within the federal asylum centres. Special solutions (usually foster care) are found for unaccompanied minors under the age of 12.

The Ordinance of the FDJP on the management of federal reception centres in the field of asylum and accommodation at airports provides that asylum seekers are to be accommodated in single-sex dormitories, and that families are accommodated in the same dormitory. Furthermore, families should also be accommodated in premises “which allow a common life and which take into account, as much as possible, the need to have a private sphere”. As far as vulnerable groups are concerned, the Ordinance simply states that the specific needs of vulnerable persons, including unaccompanied minors, will be taken into account during their accommodation and supervision, and that unaccompanied minors will be accommodated away from adults.

Four years after the entry into force of the restructured procedure, there still seem to be wide margins for improvement. For instance, no special accommodation is granted to highly traumatised people, and their access to healthcare and health assistance is limited in practice through different factors (see the chapter on Guarantees for vulnerable groups and the Use of medical reports). When it comes to LGBTQI* and female asylum seekers, the solutions envisaged do not always fully account for the great importance of ensuring protected spaces (not only dormitories), separate from male applicants. This specific situation of women and girls was addressed in a political intervention at the Swiss Parliament, further to which a broad investigation was launched to verify whether the accommodation conditions for women inside the federal centres were compliant with the international standards, and especially with the Istanbul Convention. In October 2019 the Government published a report,[2] according to which there is room for improvement in different areas, such as training and awareness raising for staff, information and support for asylum seekers and the identification of victims of sexual violence. Guidelines were published in November 2021 detailing how the administration intends to implement the results of these reports.[3]

In its report published in November 2022, GREVIO regretted the lack of a gender-sensitive accommodation policy for all Swiss reception facilities “to identify and protect women victims of gender-based violence”.[4]

However, as discussed above, accommodation for unaccompanied minors has been quite critical in 2022 given the overall strain placed on the reception and accommodation system especially in the second half of 2022. Not only are minors sometimes moved to remote locations away from the federal asylum centres but, due to lack of resources, centres are in dire need of social workers and educators to work with them during the time they are in the centres. Also, contact with the person of trust (legal representation) is more challenging in practice when the minors are placed in different locations. These circumstances pose the risk of further alienation, discomfort, and isolation for the minors, which may in turn enhance the risk of them leaving the centres unannounced and unnoticed. The Swiss Refugee Council and other NGO follow up closely on the developments, in exchange with the authorities and legal protection actors.

These problems were confirmed by NCPT in a very recent report published in April 2023. Drawing conclusions on the visits conducted in 17 federal asylum centres between 2021 and 2022, the Commission expressed high concern for the situation of unaccompanied minors, who are not able to get any personalised support at least since February 2022. Indeed, the socio-educational workers have found themselves managing 70 to 100 minors at a time, together with some unspecialised staff members. The NCPT clearly states that the treatment of minors is in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) because the best interests of the children are not enough considered and their rights to protection, rest, leisure, play and recreational activities are not guaranteed. The situation of girls is of particular concern: given their small number, they are often accommodated with adults and left to themselves. receiving no support from socio-educational staff. According to the NCPT, the current system of support for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers must be reviewed and adapted so that professional and continuous assistance of all children is guaranteed even in the event of a large influx.[5] The report also points at the transfer of minors in adults’ accommodation after an age assessment concluding for the adult age, defining this practice as illicit before a decision on the age of the applicant is entered in force.[6]

Concerning other vulnerable groups, the NCPT has regretted the provisory suppression, in several centres, of rooms accessible only for women in order to make space for more dorms; as well as the accommodation of several families in the same room. The Commission is very critical about the treatment of persons with disabilities as well, as in several centres the mobility was strongly reduced for people on a wheel chair.[7]


Reception in cantonal centres

Asylum seekers, including vulnerable ones and unaccompanied minors, are transferred to a canton if their asylum application has been granted, if they have been given a temporary permit or if their asylum procedure is still pending, but the case is complex and needs more time (extended procedure). Minors below 12 are also assigned to cantonal accommodation. In all these cases, asylum seekers are thus assigned to reception facilities, for whose maintenance and regulation the assigned canton will be responsible. Reception conditions in the cantons vary.

While the SEM used to assign unaccompanied children to cantons in which specific structures were set up, it now includes all cantons in the reception of unaccompanied minors.[8] Due to the increase in the number of unaccompanied minors, several cantons increased their reception capacities.[9]

Several organisations provide assistance to traumatised asylum seekers. The Outpatient Clinic for victims of torture and war (Service ambulatoire pour victimes de la torture et de la guerre) in Bern offers a wide range of therapies that combine social work and different treatments for persons traumatised by extreme violence.[10] Similar services are available in Geneva, Zurich, St. Gallen and the Canton of Vaud.[11] However, their capacities are insufficient compared to the needs. According to national law,[12] the SEM may financially support the setup of facilities for the treatment of traumatised asylum seekers, in particular teaching and research in the field of specialised supervision of those asylum seekers.

In a report published in 2016 and subsequently updated in 2018 by Asile LGBT Genève, it was highlighted that the reception and accommodation conditions were particularly worrisome for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers.[13]. This has been confirmed by another report, again concerning LGBTQI+ asylum seekers, published in November 2022 by the Observatory for Asylum and Foreigners Law in the french-speaking Switzerland.[14]

In its report published in November 2022, GREVIO regretted that “it is difficult to gain an up-to-date picture of the situation in all cantons” as well as the “wide disparities in accommodation conditions and in strategies to protect women from violence”. According to the report, the main sour points remain the “major shortcomings in training on gender-based violence for staff working in collective accommodation centres, and a lack of practical tools to help detect cases of violence.[15]

Shelters offering special protection to victims of trafficking as well as victims of domestic violence are missing in most areas or there are significant obstacles for asylum seekers in accessing, partly due to financing issues between federal and cantonal authorities.




[1] See the SEM website for further details, available in English (as well as German, French and Italian) at: https://bit.ly/2VXusQ4.

[2] Swiss Confederation, Rapport sur la situation des femmes et des filles relevant du domaine de l’asile, October 2019, available in French (and German and Italian) at: https://bit.ly/2w01y6Z. See also: Anne-Laurence Graf, Eine Zusammenfassung der Empfehlungen zum Schutz von asylsuchenden Frauen und Mädchen im Anschluss an das Postulat Feri, October 2021, available in German (and French) at: https://bit.ly/3GMF8pd.

[3] SEM, Situation von Frauen und Mädchen in den Bundesasylzentren: Bericht zur Umsetzung der Massnahmen in Erfüllung des Postulates 16.3407 Feri vom 9. Juni 2016, 17 November 2021, available in German (and French) at: https://bit.ly/3GQDl2l.

[4] GREVIO, Baseline Evaluation Report – Switzerland, November 2022, para 275. The report is available in English here: https://bit.ly/3HzBkun.

[5] NCPT, Report on federal asylum centres 2021-2022, available in German at https://bit.ly/42pPPZh, 19 and ff.

[6] NCPT, Report on federal asylum centres 2021-2022, available in German at https://bit.ly/42pPPZh, 31 (ch. 131).

[7] NCPT, Report on federal asylum centres 2021-2022, available in German at https://bit.ly/42pPPZh, 34-36.

[8] Konferenz der kantonalen Sozialdirektorinnen und Sozialdirektoren (SODK), Empfehlungen der SODK zu unbegleiteten minderjährigen Kindern und Jugendlichen aus dem Asylbereich, 20 May 2016, available in German at: https://bit.ly/339WGwE.

[9] For a global and regularly updated view of the reception facilities for unaccompanied children in the cantons, see: Alliance for the Rights of Migrant Children, Cartographie cantonale des structures de prise en charge pour MNA, available in French (and German) at: http://bit.ly/2Fh73hA.

[10] Swiss Red Cross, Service ambulatoire pour victimes de la torture et de la guerre, available in French (and German) at: https://bit.ly/3pZphgX.

[11] For contacts and more information, see the website Support for Torture Victims, available at: https://bit.ly/3n3Sxl0.

[12] Article 44 AO2.

[13] Asile LGBT Genève, Recherche-action sur l’accueil des réfugié.e.s LGBTI à Genève, January 2019, available (in French) at: https://bit.ly/32g6ArR.

[14] ODAE, Asile LGBTQI+ – La situation des personnes LGBTQI+ dans le domaine de l’asile, 15 November 2022, available in French here: https ://bit.ly/3vpCFwJ.

[15] GREVIO, Baseline Evaluation Report – Switzerland, November 2022, para 276. The report is available in English at: https://bit.ly/3HzBkun.

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