Sunday, September 24, 2006

Swiss vote to clamp down on asylum seekers

EU: The Swiss try to cut down on illegal immigrants and the UN are among those unhappy about it.

NEUTRAL Switzerland, home to humanitarian agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, voted by a big majority yesterday to make it harder for asylum-seekers to gain entry to the rich Alpine state. Despite warnings of damage to the country's humanitarian reputation, 68 per cent of voters said 'yes' in referendums on changes to Swiss asylum rules, making them among the West's toughest, and on limiting access for non-European job-seekers. Voters accepted the arguments of right-wing justice minister Christoph Blocher that the new regulations, featuring a requirement that all asylum-seekers have a passport, were necessary to fight alleged abuse. "The people have said they do not want abuse [of the system], but they want to maintain the humanitarian traditions of Switzerland," Blocher told TSR television. The minister says less than half of asylum requests turn out to be valid. According to his ministry, the two law changes won 68 per cent backing. Both measures have already been passed by parliament and the government, but opponents raised enough signatures to force a national vote. ....Swiss religious associations - Protestant, Catholic and Jewish - issued a joint statement criticising the result, saying it did not "provide the appropriate solutions for the existing problems". The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, which had expressed concern about toughening the asylum code, said in a statement that it regretted Switzerland had backed "restrictive" new laws. Spokesman William Spindler said the agency, which says the passport requirement may bar genuine refugees, would be watching to ensure that treatment of asylum-seekers was in line with international rules. The new law will also deny financial assistance to unsuccessful asylum-seekers and threatens them with longer periods of detention if they refuse to leave.

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