Protesters campaign for immigrant rights

The construction industry relies heavily on foreign workers Keystone

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets across Switzerland on Tuesday to campaign for more rights for immigrants.

This content was published on May 4, 2004 minutes

The demonstrations came as parliament prepared to debate controversial measures to curb illegal immigration and crack down on abuse in the labour market.

This week the House of Representatives discusses new legislation on immigration and the status of foreign residents to replace the present law dating back to 1931.

But protesters claim parliamentarians are not listening to the concerns of those who will be most affected by new legislation.

“We are protesting… because the 1.5 million immigrants in Switzerland cannot take part in the current discussions in parliament,” said Balthasar Glättli of the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Solidarity Without Borders.

“Immigrants contribute to the Swiss economy and to the nation’s cultural diversity, yet they do not have the same rights as the Swiss,” he added.

Day of protest

Glättli estimates that immigrants pay around SFr15 billion in taxes and contribute SFr6 billion to the state pension system each year.

“Even [those who] want to reduce the foreign presence recognise that the country cannot function without foreign workers,” said Carmen Pereira Fleischlin of the Federal Foreigners Commission.

Demonstrations have been organised in 15 Swiss cities and towns across the country. Some 120 NGOs, minority groups and unions are lending their support to the day of protest.

Protesters fear that legislation governing immigration could be tightened as it comes under review this week.

Parliamentary debate

Parliamentarians are scheduled to discuss amendments which would endorse a two-tier immigration policy.

This would affect nationals from countries outside European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Agreement (Efta) countries who make up 46 per cent of immigrants in Switzerland.

The reforms foresee limiting immigration to high-skilled labour and people with special qualifications.

“But immigrants [from other countries] won’t stop coming to Switzerland if the legislation gets tougher,” argues Glättli. “All that will happen is that they will be forced to go underground and there will be a lot more poverty.”

The government has stressed that the proposed amendments to the current immigration law would not only crack down on illegal workers but also promote integration.

Foreigners living in Switzerland make up 20.1 per cent of the population. Immigrants from the former Yugoslavia make up the largest group, followed by Italians.


Key facts

One in five Swiss residents is a foreign national.
One in four workers is a foreign national.
The construction industry and the health sector rely heavily on foreign workers.
Just over half the immigrants in Switzerland come from EU and Efta countries.

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