Minister pushes for more asylum reforms

Rights groups fear that Sunday's ballot box result will encourage a further tightening of the asylum law Keystone

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga says voters’ approval on Sunday of the latest reform paves the way for the introduction of faster and more humane asylum procedures. She pledged Switzerland would uphold its humanitarian tradition.

This content was published on June 9, 2013

Three out of four voters came out in favour of keeping in place restrictive measures implemented last September and valid for three years.

The new rules include the scrapping of asylum requests at Swiss embassies abroad and of refusing in principle a safe haven in Switzerland to conscientious objectors.

As part of the revised legislation, the federal authorities have greater powers in asylum matters over the country’s largely autonomous 26 cantons. The amendment also provides for the creation of national centres, as well as for sites housing asylum seekers considered troublemakers.

All regions of the country approved the reform with a tally of up to 9:1. (For detailed results see infobox)

The asylum laws have been tightened more than ten times over the past three decades.

Final results vote June 9

Tightening asylum law

Yes: 78.4%

No: 21.6%

Cabinet elections by the people

Yes: 23.7%

No: 76.3%

Turnout: 38.9%

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Sommaruga said there is agreement between both supporters and leftwing opponents of the stricter measures that the protracted asylum procedures in Switzerland are a problem for the population and for asylum seekers alike.

She added that it is crucial to discuss the next steps in a planned overhaul of the asylum policy with cantons and communes as well as humanitarian groups and other non-governmental organisations.

“They remind us what is at stake: It’s about putting the human being at the centre and it’s about a credible asylum policy,” she told a news conference.

Sommaruga said the Federal Migration Office would examine the option of granting more humanitarian visas by the end of the year. The cabinet would consider any further requests by international organisations to accept groups of particularly vulnerable people - women and children – from crisis regions.


Around 148,000 people, mainly members of the Swiss abroad community, were given the option to cast their vote online.

Nearly 19,000 of them took part in the ongoing trials with e-voting on Sunday, according to the Federal Chancellery.

It was the second in a series of nationwide ballots this year.

An estimated 5.2 million citizens were eligible to take part in the nationwide ballots on June 9.

End of insertion


A coalition of leftwing parties, trade unions, human rights and church groups, which had challenged parliament's decision to implement the law last autumn, says it deplores the outcome of the vote.

“The result is a disaster for refugees and asylum seekers. There are no winners today. Approval of the reform curbs the rights of a minority even more, but the situation for the majority will not improve,” the coalition's statement said.

The non-governmental Refugee Council says Sunday’s result is the logical consequence of “years of a hate campaign by the political right”.

The Green Party called on the government to live up to its pledge and take in more people as part of a programme by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The UNHCR expressed concern about the negative tone in the debate ahead of the vote, but feels reassured by the pledges of the government to grant shelter to people in need.


In a separate ballot on Sunday, voters overwhelmingly threw out a proposal by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party to have the people, rather than parliament, elect the seven members of the multiparty cabinet.

More than 76 per cent of voters and all cantons rejected the initiative. Compared with two previous ballots on the issue since 1900, it was the worst defeat for the promoters.

Supporters had campaigned for more transparency in the election procedure, arguing it would boost direct democracy. Opponents warned of destabilising the tried and tested Swiss system.

The People’s Party admitted defeat, vowing to continue its fight for more direct democratic rights. It said it waged a lonely battle and had failed to convince all members within its own ranks.

For her part, Justice Minister Sommaruga said the outcome proved that the Swiss did not want money to play a major role in cabinet elections or permanent campaigning by incumbent government members. However, she called on parliament to use its best judgment when it chooses cabinet members.

“Calling citizens to the ballot box as often as possible does not make for better direct democracy,” she said.

Vote of confidence

In line with Sommaruga, political analysts unanimously agree that the result is a clear vote of confidence in the government and parliament.

Citizens see no need for more direct democracy, according to Adrian Vatter from the University of Bern. Claude Longchamp of the GfS Bern research and polling institute said polls in recent years had shown that voters have faith in Swiss institutions, including the cabinet, and therefore are not open to fundamental change.

Pascal Sciarini of the University of Geneva said the electorate was perhaps not convinced that altering the system would have no direct impact on daily life.

“Swiss voters sometimes come up with a surprise. They can see what they are offered and at what price. In this case: permanent electioneering and other organisational difficulties,” he told

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