Switzerland’s defence of the Dublin accords is not a coincidence

What sort of welcome do migrants receive in Europe? While Italy is vociferously calling for the abolition of the Dublin accords, Switzerland and other European nations continue to defend them. And not by chance: since 2009, Switzerland has sent back the most refugees of any European country, mostly to Italy. 

This content was published on February 19, 2016 minutes
Duc-Quang Nguyen and Stefania Summermatter,

Although Switzerland is not one of the main destination countries for asylum seekers, between 2009 and 2014 it was the country that transferred the most migrants to another EU state. 

This practice is part of the Dublin accords, signed in 1990 and adopted by Switzerland in December 2008. According to this agreement, an asylum application can be made only once – as a rule, in the first country in which the migrant is registered. In most cases, this is Italy or Greece. 

However, not all countries are equal when it comes to the Dublin accords. For one thing, the registration of migrants is not systematic. Furthermore, the first-country-of-transit rule is enforced with varying degrees of rigidity, and ultimately, some countries are more reluctant than others to take back asylum seekers. 

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These elements explain in part the disparity illustrated in the graphic. Over six years, Switzerland has sent back 19,517 people to another European country, or 15% of its asylum seekers. Germany, the main destination country, has sent back 3% (18,331) and Sweden 4% (9,946). 

The Dublin accords are being seriously tested by immigration pressure. In 2015, the State Secretariat for Migration demanded the transfer of 17,377 people – but only 2,461 were recorded as having left Swiss territory. 

The number of transfers dropped by 5.8% compared with 2014, despite the number of asylum applications increasing by 66.3% to around 40,000. The State Secretariat for Migration says this is because cooperation with neighbouring Italy is increasingly difficult. 

Nevertheless, between 2009 and 2014, Switzerland clearly benefited overall from Dublin: it transferred 19,517 asylum seekers but accepted only 2,523 from other EU countries. 

The following graphic shows the difference between the transfer requests received by a country and the number of migrants actually taken in as a result of the Dublin accords.

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