Rising tensions spark rise in violence at asylum centres

Frustrations are spilling over in refugee centres in Switzerland causing an increasing number of confrontations between residents, according to figures reported by the Sunday papers.

Rising tensions spark rise in violence at asylum centres
Bags at a refugee centre in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

During the first quarter of 2016 security guards had to deal with twice the amount of violent situations as in previous quarters, said SonntagsZeitung, quoting an internal report from the Swiss federal migration office (SEM).

In most cases, security guards were able to diffuse the situation, and the police were called in only 77 out of 240 incidents, reported news agencies.

For the SEM, the rise in tensions in asylum centres is linked to the fact that fewer migrants arrived in 2015.

As a result, there was no pressing need to make room in centres by moving some asylum seekers to accommodation elsewhere, meaning people stayed longer in one place and tensions rose.

“With time, consideration towards others decreases,” said a spokesman for the SEM quoted by news agencies.

Frustrations also arise among those who become aware they have little chance of obtaining asylum, said Constantin Hruschka of the Swiss Refugee Council.

Since the beginning of the year, the SEM has increased security provision at refugee centres including those in Altstätten and Kreuzlingen.

But that’s not enough, according to the SRC.

“Instead of concentrating on security services it would be better to invest more in care,” Hruschka told SonntagsZeitung.

One issue could be that some refugees do not have enough to do. While the SEM stipulates that asylum seekers should be kept occupied with activities such as language courses for at least four hours a day, many centres are not reaching these targets.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to take a job in the first three months after applying for asylum, which can be extended to six months.

After this period applicants can look for temporary gainful employment, if the labour market allows it. Jobs may be limited to certain sectors.

Last week one man died and another was left seriously injured after they were stabbed at an underground asylum centre in the canton of Aargau.

The two victims and the perpetrator were all Iranian refugees living at the same centre.


Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse

Minors and adults housed in Swiss asylum centres have faced serious abuses at the hands of security staff, including beatings and chokeholds, Amnesty International warned Wednesday.

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse
An asylum centre in the Alpine village of Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a report, the rights organisation’s Swiss chapter detailed “alarming abuse” in the country’s federal asylum centres, and called for urgent government action to address the problem.

The report documents a range of abuses by staff of the private security companies Securitas and Protectas, which had been contracted by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Amnesty said it had spoken with 14 asylum seekers, including two minors, who reported having faced abuse from the security officers between January 2020 and April 2021, along with 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.

The asylum seekers described being beaten and physically restrained to the point where they could not breathe or fainted.

Some also complained about trouble breathing after being doused with pepper spray, and being locked in a metal container in freezing temperatures.

The report found that six of the alleged victims had to be hospitalised, while two said they had been denied the medical assistance they had requested.

“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.

Such attitudes had seemed to target people of North African origin in particular, she said. Some of the abuse cases, Amnesty said, “could amount to torture”, and would thus violate Switzerland’s obligations under international law.

In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centres.

It stressed that there was no acceptance for “disproportionate constraint” of asylum seekers, and vowed to “sanction all improper behaviour.”

Giraudel hailed that the SEM had recently announced it would open an external probe into isolated abuse allegations.

But, she insisted, the situation was alarming and required the government to stop looking at allegations of abuse as the work of “a few bad apples”.