Home away from home? Most surveys of public opinion in Switzerland reveal that the asylum issue strikes a resonant chord among the citizenry. In a tiny nation where upholding human rights plays a significant role, the Swiss face a paradox of how to cope with the large influx of would-be refugees.

Author:Anderson, Robert
Position:Politics
 
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The Federal Council has submitted its proposals to the Parliament for supplementing and revising the existing laws governing asylum seekers in Switzerland. The seven-member Council strongly agrees on extending the maximum period that asylum seekers can be held in so-called deportation custody from the current 9 months to 18 months. This means that the Swiss authorities can detain persons to prevent them from disappearing, ensuring that they will be able to expel non-refuges back to their country of origin. But persons held in deportation custody have not committed any criminal offence. According to the proposed revisions, the entire asylum process would be accelerated. Moreover, the government would cut off social and financial aid to any applicants whose request for asylum is rejected.

Federal Councilor Christoph Blocher, who is head of the Swiss Federal Justice and Police Department, says his recent proposals on tightening up the government's asylum laws will spark an improvement in the people's sentiment toward the asylum issue. In short, Mr. Blocher strives to make Switzerland a country that is no longer attractive to asylum seekers, seemingly seeking refuge for no good reason. Still, Councilor Blocher says he wants to pursue an even more comprehensive solution to the asylum problem, calling for additional measures such as referring asylum cases to the United Nations Organisation for dispersal to various host countries. Furthermore, Mr. Blocher proposes that Switzerland establish asylum camps directly in crisis regions, heading off any wave of refugees before it starts and screening for those truly in need of asylum, based on the covenants of the Geneva Convention. The revision of the asylum laws his sparked opposition from both sides of the political spectrum: the right wing asserts that the measures do not go far enough, while the left wing maintains that the proposals are excessively hard line.

On the other hand, some political pundits say that the proposed legislation manifests a shift to the right on the foreigner issue, in general, reflecting the emergence of a more assertive conservative agenda in Switzerland. Indeed, in the run-up to the national referendum on September 26, one conservative group opposed to granting or streamlining the right to Swiss citizenship for third-generation children born in Switzerland paid for political ads actually declaring that the country would likely be overrun by Muslims in the next 20 years...

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