The latest reform to our asylum law is tougher but also brings benefits for those entitled to legal protection, says Balthasar Glättli, a member of the House of Representatives for the Green Party.
In the face of the humanitarian refugee crisis, we need to solve the problems in our asylum system – not create them. But by launching yet another referendum, this is exactly what the Swiss People’s Party is trying to do, Glättli argues.
For decades, Switzerland’s asylum policy has been faced with significant symbolic disputes. On the one hand, it’s the fight against asylum abuse, or the number of asylum seekers, which is allegedly too large. On the other hand, it’s the struggle to defend Switzerland’s long-standing humanitarian tradition.
Up until now, every single revision has followed the same pattern. Due to the pressure of the Swiss People’s Party or with the intention of undermining its motives, the cabinet launches measures to tighten the asylum law. The Swiss parliament, which is dominated by the centre-right, then adds fuel to these already tight measures, which are then opposed by the Greens and Social Democrats, who usually call a referendum and fail miserably.
For the first time, the popular vote on the new asylum law, which is scheduled for June 5, paints a different picture. All parties ranging from the Greens to the Social Democratic Party and Christian Democrats support the reorganisation of the asylum procedures, as it comes with a compromise.
On the one hand, it is definitely tougher and will significantly speed up procedures leading to a legally binding positive or negative decision. On the other hand, it offers asylum seekers pro bono legal advice for first instance proceedings. The Swiss People’s Party is the only party opposing this compromise, and has therefore called a referendum.
Good marks for pilot phase
This latest referendum is also rather unusual as the consequences of the new law are already predictable. Prior to a vote, supporters and opponents usually argue about whether a new law would actually achieve the expected effects.
This new asylum procedure has already been checked out by a company in Zurich and has been subject to a reality check since January 2014.
The evaluation done by independent experts has shown that it meets all expectations: the handling time for application procedures has been cut by a third, with the complaint rate also dropping by a third.
In fact, the number of asylum seekers returning to their countries of origin has tripled, as they had no other choice than to accept that their application would not stand a chance.
However, there has been some criticism from the left. Receiving pro bono legal advice is not totally unconditional, as the Swiss People’s Party wrongly claims when it talks about “pro bono lawyers”. The legal advisors are simply asked not to launch hopeless appeals. The Green Party is adamant that in future, the new federal centres must not be closed camps, but must be open for neighbours and independent organisations to visit.
Despite these voices of criticism, the Green Party as well as Amnesty International and the Swiss Refugee Aid have summed it all up and decided for a critical ‘yes’.
Vote with a double meaning
The vote is about saying 'yes' – despite all justified criticism – to an asylum reform that would be beneficial to those people who are entitled to receive legal protection under Swiss asylum law. This group currently accounts for around 60% of all asylum applicants.
However, the vote is also about setting a political agenda. It is about whether a 'no' vote would actually support the very ‘un-Swiss’ all-or-nothing policy of the Swiss People’s Party that leads this referendum; or whether a 'yes' vote would strengthen those forces from left to right who are convinced that in the face of the humanitarian refugee crisis, our politicians have to solve problems in Switzerland – not create them.
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