Newly released figures show that only 58 percent of foreigners who commit criminal offences are deported, despite a law which requires expulsion from Switzerland for all foreigners who commit criminal offences.
The right-wing Swiss People’s Party, the largest party in Swiss parliament, has criticised the figures and is considering a new referendum which would see foreigners subject to mandatory deportation for committing crimes.
The findings show that in 2019, 2,883 foreigners committed crimes which required deportation. However, 1,658 people were deported – only 58 percent.
Those who were saved from deportation had Switzerland’s ‘hardship clause’ to thank.
While the average was 58 percent of offenders deported, the deportation rate varied significantly from canton to canton.
In Lucerne, 90 percent of offenders were deported, while in Neuchatel it is at 23 percent.
In Zurich, Switzerland's largest canton where an estimated 50 percent are foreign, the deportation rate is 46 percent.
Not all criminal offences will attract deportation, only those which are deemed to have a sufficient degree of seriousness.
Felicitas Lenzinger, the president of the criminal court in Basel, told Swiss daily 20 Minutes that shoplifting and other minor offences would not attract a deportation order.
'Scrap the hardship clause'
The hardship clause, which allows cantons to spare deportations where it would lead to hardship for the deported person, is now the SVP’s new target.
As reported in Swiss media outlet 20 Minutes, the SVP is considering a new initiative to scrap the hardship clause – thereby ensuring mandatory deportation for foreigners who commit criminal acts.
In a statement, the SVP threatened that a popular initiative would be launched if Swiss authorities failed to deport more foreigners convicted of crimes.
“If the Federal Council and Parliament refuse to do so within a reasonable period of time, the SVP will consider a popular initiative to abolish the hardship clause,” it reads.
“Prosecutors and judges are fussing on a large scale for the will of the people and security in our country.”
Are the sheep about to return?
The campaign has been a pet issue of the SVP for over a decade, with several initiatives launched to make it easier to remove criminal foreigners.
The law came about via a successful referendum supported by the SVP in 2010, while a 2016 vote – which included an internationally controversial advertising campaign depicting a white sheep kicking a black sheep out of Switzerland – to expand deportation powers was defeated at the ballot box.
A poster produced by Switzerland's SVP calling for deportation of foreigners who have committed crimes. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
According to Swiss media outlet Le Temps, the SVP is now shifting its focus to these figures due to fear that it will lose its popular initiative to restrict freedom of movement.
Originally scheduled for May, the initiative has been moved to September due to the pandemic. Although recent polls have indicated the initiative is likely to fail, experts believe it has a better chance than before the pandemic due to a rise in Swiss nationalist sentiment.