Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 30/11/20


Swiss Refugee Council Visit Website

Reception in federal asylum centres


As discussed in the chapter on Guarantees for vulnerable groupsnational 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.

The SEM is responsible for the accommodation and supervision of asylum seekers as well as security in and around the centres. It entrusts these tasks to third parties, with which it concludes service agreements. Each accommodation has its own internal regulations. The SEM published the call for tenders related to the accommodation and care in the centres in 2019. Mandates run from the beginning of 2020 but, as of late 2019, not much detail has been disclosed on the measures that will be taken to ensure that all asylum seekers – and especially vulnerable ones, will be properly accommodated.

The normative framework is provided by the Order concerning the use of Federal Reception Centres and accommodations inside the airports (Ordonnance du DFJP relative à l’exploitation des centres de la Confédération et des logements dans les aéroports).[2] Such Order specifies that centres are not open and lists the categories of visitors that are allowed inside the centres (mostly SEM personnel, and legal representatives. These latter, though, only have access to the rooms reserved for interviews and meetings). Civil society’s representatives may be granted access upon request to the SEM (Art. 2), which also handles more generally the exchanges between the former and the asylum seekers (Art. 7). Access to health care, schooling and ‘occupational programs’ should be granted, as well as access to communication tools such as mobile phones and the internet (Art. 8, 9, 10 and 13).

The Order further 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 Order 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.

Almost one year 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 groupsand 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.

The reception and accommodation of unaccompanied children also raises concern. 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) should be implemented from 2020, but as of late 2019, no more specific information on the time schedule and implementation measures have been provided.

Thus, in some centres minors do not have access to dedicated spaces where they can rest or play; that, from the age of 16 onwards they generally no longer have access to schooling, but that, unfortunately, occupational programs are not always up and running; that contact with their persons of trust is not always facilitated. In its report regarding federal asylum centres, 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, but caseworkers working now in the centres confirm that this can still happen, 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 cantional 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 new 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 foresees the implementation of a new specific centre in 2019.[14]

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, it was highlighted that the reception and accommodation conditions were particularly worrisome for LGBTI asylum seekers.[18]


[1] See the SEM webpage for further details, available at: https://bit.ly/2VXusQ4

[2] Ordonnance du DFJP relative à l’exploitation des centres de la Confédération et des logements dans les aéroports, available at: https://bit.ly/2v6d0xE

[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