The number of people requesting asylum in Switzerland continues to decline, with figures at their lowest level in nearly 20 years.This content was published on January 19, 2006 - 12:46
The Federal Migration Office said on Thursday that 29 per cent fewer people sought asylum last year compared with 2004.
The office registered just over 10,000 asylum seekers in 2005, the lowest number since 1986.
The largest single group came from Serbia and Montenegro (1,506) followed by Turkey, Somalia, Iraq and Bulgaria.
The number of people waiting for a decision from the authorities was down 12 per cent to 48,000.
The office said the strength of the downward trend put Switzerland ahead of most other European countries, with Denmark being the only nation which has registered a similar significant drop.
The office attributed the decline to the implementation of tougher immigration policies over the past few years in Switzerland.
These include the cutting off of financial aid to people whose requests had been rejected, speeding up the processing of requests and more deportations.
It added that the percentage of people given asylum had risen, proof that Swiss asylum law was working to ensure that those with legitimate claims were being recognised.
However, the non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council said other factors had contributed to the decrease across Europe, including Switzerland.
"Stricter controls at the EU's external borders and a relative calm in conflict regions, in particular the Balkans, are important elements," Refugee Council's Jürg Schertenleib told swissinfo.
He added that many asylum seekers are paying a high price for the tougher Swiss regulations.
In December, parliament approved a further tightening of Swiss asylum policy.
Asylum applicants without identity papers would have to prove that they were not responsible for the situation, and rejected asylum seekers could be detained for up to 18 months before deportation.
The centre-left Social Democratic Party and the Green Party have launched a referendum to combat the new measures.
The tougher asylum laws have also been criticised by the Geneva-based UNHCR, which said that some of the planned measures would make Swiss legislation among the most severe in Europe.
swissinfo with agencies
Swiss asylum statistics 2005:
10,061 people applied for asylum
29.4% decrease compared with previous year
48,000 people were waiting for decision on application
The most recent reform of Swiss asylum law calls for the cutting off of financial aid not only to rejected asylum seekers, but all illegal immigrants.
The detention period before deportation is to be doubled to 18 months.
The authorities will only accept applications from asylum seekers carrying identification papers. It is considered more restrictive than any such policy in the European Union.
Switzerland also only grants asylum to persons persecuted by a state. Not eligible, for example, are women forced into prostitution and who have fled their homeland.
In compliance with the JTI standards