The closure of the popular migration route via the Balkans border on March 9, 2016, led to a rapid increase in the number of refugees in Switzerland as they immigrated to Germany. Refugees have been entering Switzerland through Ticino, and a report estimates there are 5,760 illegal residents in this region.
Switzerland’s Asylum Act grants “recognized refugees” asylum, temporary protection if needed, public social assistance and the ability to become a permanent resident after having resided in the country for 10 years. Refugees in Switzerland granted the B permit are noted as “recognized refugees,” defined as people who “‘in their native country or in their country of the last residence are subject to serious disadvantages or have a well-founded fear of being exposed to such disadvantages.'”
The Asylum Act imposes required social assistance. Consequently, the council of Rekingen, a municipality in the canton of Aargu, Switzerland, proposed that residents should not rent properties to refugees. The proposal stems from the fear that B permit refugees will rely on social welfare benefits and ruin Rekingen financially.
Refugees in Switzerland who apply for asylum must complete processing at a reception center to be considered legal. However, 20 to 40 percent of refugees assigned to reception centers evade the monitoring system so that they may migrate to Germany. According to Swiss legislation, they are thus illegal immigrants.
Some parts of Switzerland have reported that the number of refugees who left the reception centers soon after arriving is between 50 to 90 percent. They concluded that refugees are using Switzerland for transit instead of asylum.
On February 9, 2014, Switzerland adopted the Controlling Mass Immigration Initiative. The initiative introduced annual quotas for accepting refugees and amended the social security benefits of immigrants seeking employment.
The annual quotas instilled by the Controlling Mass Immigration Initiative has stirred controversy in the village of Oberwil-Lieli. Oberwil-Lieli’s mayor originally rejected the quota because his residents believe assistance should be done “on the ground,” preferring to lessen the threat in the refugees’ native countries rather than make Switzerland a popular asylum. For example, residents of the village raised 370,000 francs to support Greek refugees.
Eritreans make up the largest portion of refugees in Switzerland. About 34,500 Eritreans have fled their homes as a result of violent conflict with Ethiopia. Switzerland has so far accepted refugees who illegally exited Eritrea given they apply for asylum. However, reports show that many refugees use their allowed 21 days of holiday to visit Eritrea34, undermining their claim to asylum. This revelation led to a discussion about Switzerland’s lax rules for refugees. Subsequently, the appeal to strengthen the rules for Eritrean asylum seeking did not receive approval.
Most refugees immigrating from Italy to Germany pass through Switzerland. However, Federal Border Guards consistently transfer migrants who did not apply for asylum to Italy. In 2016, authorities sent over a thousand refugees seeking asylum back to Italy. The deportees included several hundred unaccompanied minors and many refugees with family in Switzerland.
In September 2015, an amendment to the Asylum Act granted asylum seekers free legal advice and representation in the procedure. It also made a legal duty out of caring for the needs of especially-threatened refugees.