Thursday, September 29, 2005

UNHCR Disappointed with Swiss Restrictions on Asylum

While the Swiss accepted plans to open the labor market, they are about to pass a very strict law on asylum, despite rapidly falling numbers of applicants. The UN Human Rights Agency even says the law might violate the Human Rights charter. Here's the UN press release:

Despite a falling number of asylum applications, restrictive legislation being adopted by Switzerland could make access by genuine refugees to the country exceedingly difficult, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement.

“This provision is amongst the strictest in Europe, UNHCR Spokesperson Ron Redmond told a briefing in Geneva today. “We are concerned that …this law could result in some deserving cases being denied access to international protection,” he added, noting the new need for valid travel or identity documents.

“We should not forget that people trying to enter a country without documentation may have valid reasons to do so,” he said. “It is often not possible for people fleeing for their lives to obtain such documents,” he said, adding that the UNHCR has repeatedly voiced its concerns relating to this type of asylum restriction.

The legislation is not consistent with the rights of refugees to enter without travel documents outlined in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Switzerland was an early signatory. While acknowledging that governments do have the right to control migration flows, Mr. Redmond said the UNHCR will work with the Swiss Government to develop a “fair and effective asylum system.”

Equally disappointing Mr. Redmond said, the Swiss legislation also voted down protection for individuals who though not applying for refugee status, might be fleeing serious harm from an ongoing conflict, making the country out of lockstep with European standards.

Last year there were 14,000 asylum applications to the country, which was 32 per cent lower than in 2003. So far, in 2005 there have only been 4,700 applications, 44 per cent lower than the same period last year, the agency said.

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