Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 14/05/21


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Reception in federal asylum centres

As discussed in the chapter on Guarantees for vulnerable groups, national law does not define the categories of persons who are considered vulnerable. Even though some provisions are in place to support some categories of asylum seekers (victims of gender-based violence and unaccompanied minors) during the asylum interview, the practice related to the conduct of the interview and the credibility assessment is not always consistent. Furthermore, decision making of the SEM and jurisprudence concerning vulnerable groups do not always live up to the standards set by international guidelines and case law.

As already mentioned, 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 (mainly if the case is assessed under the Dublin Regulation) 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.

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 that asylum seekers made. As of December 2020, 118 asylum seekers were in private accommodation.[2]

The Ordinance of the FDJP on the 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 contents itself to state 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.

Two years after the entry into force of the new procedure, there seems 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,[3] according to which there is scope 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 should be issued in early 2021 detailing how the administration intends to implement the results of these reports, but, at the time of publication of this report, such guidelines had not been made available.

As far as the reception and accommodation of unaccompanied children is concerned, in January 2019, a report was published on the situation in the two test centres of Basel and Zurich, with multiple recommendations for improvement addressed to the SEM.[4] According to the information provided by SEM officials, some of these recommendations (for instance, the need of having social workers present inside the centres to accompany minors in their day-to-day tasks and challenges, the need to ensure separate rooms for the minors to play or to rest etc) started to be implemented from 2020. According to the latest report of the National Commission for the prevention of torture, the reception and accommodation of unaccompanied children has improved. The commission visited some of the federal reception centres between 2019 and 2020 and found for instance that all centres guarantee children access to basic education. Some concerns remain, though, for older children (15 and above) because, once compulsory schooling ends, there are no occupational programs in place. In a previous report, dating back to 2019, the NCPT found that in some cases unaccompanied minors were still accommodated with adults.[5] These observations related to federal asylum centres in use before the new Asylum Act entered into force. According to caseworkers now working in the federal centres this can still happen, though, especially because of the difficulties in assessing the asylum seekers’ age. In any event, not all centres accommodate unaccompanied minors in separate buildings and therefore in some cases unaccompanied minors are just on a separate floor, which cannot always ensure separation between them and the adults.

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 accommodations. In all these cases, asylum seekers are thus assigned to reception facilities, for whose maintenance and regulation the assigned canton will be responsible.

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.[6] Due to the increase in the number of unaccompanied minors 2014 and 2015, several cantons increased their reception capacities:[7] for example the canton of Argovia opened a specialised centre for unaccompanied minors (who had previously been accommodated together with adults) in spring 2015,[8] the canton of Berne opened additional specialised reception centres for unaccompanied minors in autumn 2014,[9] January 2016,[10] and autumn 2016,[11] as Schwyz did so in August 2016.[12] Lucerne ruled an emergency centre between 2015 and 2017,[13] which was subsequently replaced by a specific centre that opened its doors in November 2017 in Kriens. In May 2016, the Conference of the Cantonal Social Directors published recommendations on unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in order to work towards a certain uniformity. The canton of Geneva was foreseeing establishment of a new specific centre in 2019,[14] however as of February 2021, the project is still in discussion. 

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.[15] Similar services are available in Geneva, Zurich, St. Gallen and the Canton of Vaud.[16] However, the capacities of these institutions are insufficient compared to the needs. According to national law,[17] the SEM may financially support the setup of facilities for the treatment of traumatised asylum seekers, in particular the 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 LGBTI asylum seekers.[18]

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 webpage for further details, available at: https://bit.ly/2VXusQ4

[2] Information provided by the SEM, 27 April 2021.

[3]  Swiss Confederation, Rapport sur la situation des femmes et des filles relevant du domaine de l’asile, October 2019, available (in French) at: https://bit.ly/2w01y6Z.

[4] Zurcher Hochschule fur angewandte Wissenschaften, Evaluation des UMA-Pilotprojektes, Januar 2019, available (in German) at: http://bit.ly/37QD3WV.

[5]  Report regarding federal centres for asylum, 2017-2018, §84

[6] Konferenz der kantonalen Sozialdirektorinnen und Sozialdirektoren (SODK), Empfehlungen der SODK zu unbegleiteten minderjährigen Kindern und Jugendlichen aus dem Asylbereich, 20 May 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2jmj4JE.

[7] 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 at: http://bit.ly/2Fh73hA.

[8] Canton of Argovia, ‘Unterkunft für unbegleitete minderjährige Asylsuchende in Aarau’, 29 April 2015, available (in German) at: http://bit.ly/1FQ5k1f.

[9] Canton of Berne, ‘Zusätzliche Unterkunftsplätze für unbegleitete minderjährige Asylsuchende in Belp’, 23 October 2014, available (in German) at: http://bit.ly/1j9xief.

[10]Canton of Berne, ‘Eröffnung eines Ankunftszentrums in Huttwil’, 15 December 2015, available (in German) at: http://bit.ly/2jt3kSJ.

[11]Canton of Berne, ‘Zusätzliche Unterbringungsplätze in Beatenberg’, 11 July 2016, available (in German) at: http://bit.ly/2j0EEF9.

[12] Canton of Schwyz, ‘Kanton führt temporäre Wohngruppe für unbegleitete minderjährige Asylsuchende’, 30 June 2016, available (in German) at: http://bit.ly/2jt4PjL.

[13] Canton of Lucerne, ‘Neues Zentrum für unbegleitete minderjährige Asylsuchende in Kriens’, 28 October 2015, available (in German) at: http://bit.ly/2jmlVCy.

[14]  Le Courrier, ‘Nouveau foyer pour MNA à Genève: L’encadrement proposé ne convainc pas encore’, 8 June 2017, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2ETX1Sq.

[15] Swiss Red Cross, Service ambulatoire pour victimes de la torture et de la guerre, available (in French) at: http://bit.ly/1KcqxTR.

[16]   For contacts and more information, see the website Support for Torture Victims, available at: http://bit.ly/1IdLMmq.

[17]  Article 44 AO2.

[18] 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.

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