Migrants at the Swiss South border

Migrants at the Swiss South border

Inventory from the Swiss perspective

by Dr iur Marianne Wüthrich

Reading the headlines about the increasing migration from the Mediterranean towards Switzerland in recent days and weeks one could think that in the years before hardly any immigrants came to Switzerland via Italy. But the fact is that for a long time every summer tens of thousands of refugees and job seekers from Italy wish to enter into Switzerland. Therefore, Switzerland signed already in 1998 a readmission agreement with Italy which has been in force since1 May 2000. Since 2008 Switzerland is also involved in Schengen/Dublin. However, it is possible for the Swiss border guard corps to reject a greater number of new arrivals to Italy only recently. Not because the Swiss approach became “sharper” or even in some cases violates the right of asylum, as some politicians claim, but because the Italian Government adheres to the rules of the Dublin regime recently and is cooperating with the Swiss authorities.
    It is true: The ways of migration from Africa and the Middle East have increasingly arrived before the Swiss border. Why this is so and what doesn’t work in Europe as it should, is shown here from the Swiss perspective.

Ticino State Council President and Police Director Norman Gobbi on the refugee situation in Como

“I believe it is in the interest of this country, to ensure the legality – but on the other hand, also to receive properly people who apply for asylum. However, this should always be done with good controls, because we know that there are also people among these migrants who try to come to us with purposes that are not entirely peaceful. For example it is an open question as to what happened in Libya with this ISIS supporters or ISIS fighters who have now lost the fight against the Libyan armed forces. What is going to happen to them? Do they come to us as camouflaged migrants? Therefore, we must analyse the situation carefully. […] Regarding migrating we have to consider what happened already internally with this refugee quota, which is located in Europe. We have signed an agreement on the free movement of persons with the European Union and its member states. This brings a great mobility within the European continent. We cannot continue with filling this kettle, which is almost full.
Not only Switzerland has to solve this problem, but most of all the EU countries. They made a clear statement, as Germany with his ‘Welcome Policy’ last year. They just opened the doors widely. In my opinion that was a great irresponsibility. After that, there were some 500,000 migrants who were not registered in November last year and who are running around in Germany now. We saw the consequences in Cologne or afterwards the other problems in Germany. We are not alowed to just play with the values, with the people values when afterwards the consequences are not tackled properly. It needs to be acted well and properly and to help where it is possible.”

Ticino Police Director Norman Gobbi on 18 August 2016 at 13 o’clock in “Tagesgespräch” on SRF 1

The merciless bombardment of many previously ordered states and their populations into misery and chaos has its impact also on Europe. Under the former Libyan Government for example, gangs could never operate their businesses as easily as today. In times of digital networks it is not easy to see who controls the growing migration flows and from where. But one thing is clear: For the Intelligence Services of the US it will be all right – keep Europe busy…

Migrants as victims of the back and forth EU policy

The vast majority of migrants from the South and the East reach Europe via Italy, 93 percent (!) in July – a clear indication of a central control. On the Mediterranean every day hundreds of migrants were reloaded by the Frontex1 from their boats in German, French and British ships and brought to Italian ports, already 95,000 in the first half of the year 2016!2
Since the unauthorised welcoming of the German Chancellor and the ensuing confusion the predominant migrants’ route to Europe has changed several times according to the objections of the reality. The Balkan route is now practically closed after several states began to control their borders intensively. In the spring of 2016, it became known that the way has shifted direction of Brenner, on the Italian/Austrian border. The Austrian Government then resorted to the emergency brake and announced effective border controls up to a border fence on the mountain pass. As Die Zeit reported on 13 May, the two Governments agreed – amazingly quickly! – that not the Austrians control entry on the Brenner but the Italian authorities control the departure. For this purpose, Italy deployed 50 policemen and 60 soldiers in addition to the Brenner to bring the migrants to “other locations” “where they could seek asylum”, as Minister of the Interior, Angelino Alfano, said. The agreement works: as his Austrian colleague Wolfgang Sobotka has already said in May, “the number of migrants attempting the entry to Austria via the Brenner is now going against zero”.3
It is possible to put clear signs, if requested by the decision makers. The crux of the agreement: The migrants are brought to “other locations” as announced, namely towards the Italian/Swiss border, so that this year more people than in the past wish to enter in the canton of Ticino via Como.
Victim of this back and forth are the people who left their country and their family and often had to spend the last family savings, because they were made believe that in Germany or in another foreign country, they would get a good job with which they could feed their family at home. Such fabrications must be stopped! How much more human – and how much more independent from overseas – it would be, if we Europeans would use our energy and the envisaged financial resources committed to end the wars so that people will find a professional income and the possibility of a decent life for themselves and their families in their own country.

In times of increasing terror threat the borders are to protect

The Swiss border guard corps abides by the law and on the instructions of federal authorities when dealing with immigration. They reacted rapidly and transparently to claims that migrants would not be allowed to enter into Switzerland although they wanted to seek asylum here, (see box “Information on the situation on the southern border”) Switzerland has a long tradition as asylum and protecting power for politically persecuted and no reason to change it (see box “Refugees and asylum seekers in Switzerland”). However, it cannot let travel undocumented migrants through the country. In times of increasing terrorist attacks in various countries of Europe, reliable border controls actually should be welcomed by all political forces in the country and abroad. In this sense, the “Basler Zeitung” indicates that due to the tense security situation it is indispensable to guard the Swiss South border.4
That’s why a recent change in politics by the Italian government, that does not permit the new arrivals to disappear into Southern Italy or Sicily and continue their journey north anymore, but registers them and provides them with the opportunity to seek asylum in Italy, is to be supported.
Nevertheless, the Italians are the ones to pick up the tap: 105,687 asylum applications have been filed in Italy within one year (from August 2015 til July 2016), an increase by 50 per cent compared to the same time frame within the previous year. That number still is likely to increase until the beginning of winter, if one is to believe “Neue Züricher Zeitung.” The planned Relocation of refugees that was promised by Brussels in return still does not seem to be able to get of the ground. The so-called relocation by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker provides that between September of 2015 and 2017 a total of 160,000 asylum seekers, who already sought asylum in Italy or Greece, will be transferred to other EU member states. However, after less than a year, only 902 and 2,665 asylum seekers respectively have been taken in by both countries.”5 Juncker already knew that many of the EU member states would object to and resist such an allocation imposed upon them from above. One wonders what would happen, if  those Frontex ships filled with migrants were to anchor in a French instead of an Italian Mediterranian harbour. Instead, Paris opted for strict controls at its borders to Italy…6
It is worth noting that Switzerland has volunteered to participate in the EU’s relocation project and will take up to 3,000 Syrian refugees from Southern Europe, in addition to the 3,638 Syrian citizens that Switzerland has granted asylum directly and those 6,358 people that have been accepted provisionally.7

Border and people protection versus a world without borders

A lot of migrants that have travelled from the Italian border town of Como to the other side of the border, to Chiasso, and have been brought back to Italy by Swiss border guards, still make multiple attempts and camp out in Como inbetween. There, Swiss aid workers and private volunteers provide them with food and clothes. This, of course, is commendable. However, it is less agreeable that Swiss activists seize this as an opportunity to disparage their own country: a group of social democrat politicians, among them former Federal Councillor Ruth Dreifuss seeks to “confront” the Federal Office for Migration and Swiss border guards.8
In this respect it should be noted that – obviously – all those people who are stranded in Como have to be provided for (which actually would be the responsibility of the Italian authorities but of course, Swiss volunteers are more than welcome to offer their support). However, the social democratic Como travellers, according to Weltwoche, seized this opportunity to “further their own political agenda and to polish their own image. They blamed Switzerland for people’s misery and critisised the border patrol authorities for allegedly managing the situation in a disproportionately harsh manner.”9
As Die Zeit notes refreshingly matter-of factly in an article that is otherwise titled “Switzerland shuts down” slightly captiously: “Swiss border guards are only doing what they have been authorised to do for the past 16 years: Those who do not meet the entry requirements are rigorously send back”, according to a statement given to Die Zeit by the Federal Customs Administration (EZV). In no way is this a change in policy, contrary to what has been assumed by some media outlets, refugee activists and left-wing politicians”.10 A report on a 26 year-old teacher from Ethiopia serves as an example. He registered as an asylum seeker in Italy and for that reason, is elligible to be send back by Switzerland. Understandably, staying in Italy isn’t  a viable option because he has to provide for his family in Ethiopia which certainly is easier to do in Germany or Switzerland than it is in Italy. One is able to empathise with his disappointment. Still, according to his own statement, he’s not a persecuted political refugee who would be able to invoke the right of asylum.
The account of a Swiss activist, distributing flyers in Como and complaining about the fact that by registering in Italy, refugees “forfeit the possibility to decide for themselves where they want to seek asylum”, makes for an equally compelling read (Die Zeit, 18 August 2016). It is worth noting that precisely that kind of right is not part of asylum law. “The Dublin treaty doesn’t provide the option to choose a specific destination for asylum seekers. Such a system wouldn’t be feasible.” [emphasis mw] (cf. infobox “Information on the situation at the Southern border”, p. 5).
The young activist does not beat around the bush: “I do not believe in borders [emphasis mw]. The people coming here are my age, but are not allowed to cross over into Switzerland – just because they carry the wrong passport in their trouser pocket. I have been over there a thousand times, even if it was just for a party.” (Die Zeit, 18 August 2016) [sic!] Swiss tax payers kindly are to pick up the tap for the livelihoods of both border-sceptic party people as well as those streaming in uncontrolled – not to mention the loss of control concerning the country’s safety. And while the population is gripped by its compassion for the refugees, in reality, it is about something entirely different: the dissolution of the nation-states by wreaking havoc at the national borders, the organisation of a campaign aimed against the border control authorities and trying to goad the migrants into mounting an assault on the border.
Luckily, in Switzerland, it is the people that decide upon legal regulations and the vast majority is not susceptible to such dangerous ideologies, but insists on appropriate and autonomous solutions to current problems.    •

1    European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union
2    “Die Asylanträge türmen sich in Italien”, (Asylum applications pile up in Como) Neue Zürcher Zeitung from 20 August 2016
3    “Österreich verzichtet auf Grenzkontrollen am Brenner”, Die Zeit online from 13 May 2016
4    “Bundesrat Maurers neue Transparenz”, Basler Zeitung from 18 August 2016
5     “Die Asylanträge türmen sich in Italien”, (Asylum applications pile up in Como) Neue Zürcher Zeitung from 20.8.2016
6     “Bundesrat Maurers neue Transparenz”, (Federal Councellor Maurer’s new transparency) Basler Zeitung from 18.8.2016
7     Eidg. Staatssekretariat für Migration, “Humanitäre Krise in Syrien” (State Secretariat for Migration, “Humanitarian Crisis in Syria”), www.sem.admin.ch/sem/de/home/asyl/syrien.html
8    “So erschütterte das Flüchtlingscamp Ruth Dreifuss” (As the refugee camp shocked Ruth Dreifuss), Blick from 13.8.2016
9    “Profilierung in Como” (“Profiling in Como”), Weltwoche No 33 from 18.8.16
10    Die Zeit from 18.8.2016

Refugees and asylum seekers in Switzerland


In July 2016, 2,477 asylum applications were submitted in Switzerland, 148 more than in the previous month (+ 6.4%).

The main countries of origin of asylum seekers in July 2016 were Eritrea with 738 requests, Somalia with 197 requests, Afghanistan with 171 requests, Ethiopia with 168 requests and Nigeria with 146 requests.

At the end of July there were 32,358 asylum seekers during asylum procedures. In addition, 35,039 people from war zones have been incorporated provisionally, a third of them for more than 7 years.
At the end of June 43,300 recognized refugees lived in Switzerland. This number may seem small, but you must take into account, that a large part of the recognised refugees from earlier decades meanwhile have become Swiss citizens and can no longer be counted as refugees.


Source: State Secretariat for Migration, Asylum Statistics in July 2016, www.sem.admin.ch/sem/de/home/aktuell/news/2016/2016-08-11.html 

Information on the situation on the southern border

(Federal Department of Finance)*

Effective 18 August 2016

  • “If a person reveals itself as being calling for protection in Switzerland, he or she has access to the Swiss asylum system.
  • In contrast, persons without any valid travel documents, who do not have any application for asylum only intend to transit Switzerland, are in accordance with Aliens Act, expelled from Switzerland by the Border Guard. With regard to the since 2000 existing bilateral readmission agreements with Italy, many are transferred directly to the Italian authorities.
  • Switzerland respects the current European rules (Dublin Convention). Therefore Switzerland cannot become a transit country for irregular migration and endeavors to prevent the transit of persons without valid travel documents by different means.
  • The Dublin system does not allow asylum seekers to select their destination country themselves. Such a system would not be practicable. The Dublin system however ensures, that for each demand for asylum one country has its jurisdiction and to be responsible for the protection seekers.
  • For a long time Switzerland takes a stand for a solidary European asylum policy. The difficult situation for the concerned people on the southern border clearly shows that no European country can cope with the challenges on his own – neither Italy nor Germany nor Switzerland. In future one has to find sustainable, constitutional solutions, together with the European partners. Thus Switzerland participates voluntarily in the programs of the EU for the redistribution of asylum seekers in order to relieve the heavy loaded states.”

*    The Border Guard is subordinate to the Federal Customs Administration and therefore part of the Department of Finance.

      Additional information: “Fragen und Antworten zur Lage an der Südgrenze” (Federal Department of Finance, https://www.efd.admin.ch/efd/de/home/themen/zoll/info-suedgrenze.html )
(Translation Current Concerns)

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