|Co-operation between illegalized immigrants and supporters
In actual fact, it seems we have little to offer
Federalism undermines solidarity
A Failed Attempt or a Supraregional Campaign?
Back to Resistance within Individual Cantons
A Revolutionary Act Is, And Remains, To Speak The Truth Out Loud
Switzerland has been familiar with visa regulations since 1917. It is these regulations which have allowed the country to distinguish between desirable and undesirable or "better" and "worse" foreigners, and the current terminology of "legal" and "illegal". After World War II, the Swiss authorities also created different types of residence permit. Later, three permits were introduced, called N, F and L. These categories are very uncertain and are a preliminary stage of illegality, since they are terminable at any time by the administrative bodies (see table 1). [back to top]
Since the resistance against deportation of political refugees to Mussolini's Italy in the twenties, 20th century Switzerland has seen several movements that refuse to accept similar policies. The most publicised examples are those from the Second World War, where ordinary citizens, but also military personnel and ambassadors, tried in all manner of ways to protect Jewish refugees, against the will of the Swiss state. In more recent times the most important examples, it would seem, are the 'free place' activities in Switzerland that were created in 1973 for refugees from Chile. Pointing to the economic crisis at that time, the Swiss Federal Council (government) declared that there was no room for the refugees. A strong solidarity movement in Switzerland resisted this intention to batten down the hatches as in World War II, and accommodated the asylum seekers in private homes.
In this way 1,200 Chileans were acknowledged as refugees in individual procedures. To date, the free place activists run two legal aid offices, one in Basle and another in Zürich. These assist all refugees with precarious or no legal status in going through the prescribed channels.
No sooner was the first Asylum Law in Switzerland put into force in 1981 than politicians started trying to tighten it up. In 1981 the Comité Suisse de Défense du Droit d'Asile became active and established a refugee shelter in the Geneva church "Des Eaux-Vives". Between 1984 and 1990, asylum seekers protested at least twenty times (with hunger strikes, protest marches and squatting) against their increasing isolation and lack of rights because of tighter laws.
In opposition to the second revision of the asylum law, the parliamentary left resorted to a referendum 1. Although it was rejected, the result was the foundation of different supra-regional critical groups - like the Swiss Asylum Coordination (AKS) and the Swiss Movement for Openness, Democracy and Solidarity (BODS).
Out of the asylum revision (1986) came the so-called Procedure 88. Switzerland adopted a thirty day restriction on freedom for rejected asylum seekers who were hard to deport. The border-gate concept was settled at the same time. The idea that an application for asylum can only be made at 13 offices, 12 railway stations and three airports in the country was so impractical that it was abandoned.
At the beginning of 1989, one hundred and forty refugees went on hunger strike for two weeks in two federal refugee camps. They were protesting against the new Procedure 88, and demanded the abolition of the federal refugee camps. They demanded better living conditions and acknowledgment as political refugees. Similarly, two months later, 47 refugees in the federal refugee camp Klosters/Graubünden went on hunger strike for 18 days with the same demands. "We declare that the process of seeking asylum here is basically a joke". On April 1, 1989 the "Aktionsbündnis zur Verteidigung bedrohter Flüchtlingsfrauen und -männer" (The Alliance for the Protection of Threatened Refugees) squatted in the Theater am Neumarkt in Zürich and opened a refuge there. This kind of temporary accommodation is comparable to the Wanderkirchenasyl in Germany, where refugees can stay in churches for a fixed period. Twelve days later they were evicted from the theatre by the police. The refugees managed to go underground just in time. Two weeks later they moved to the premises of the trade union for building construction (GBH). The GBH wasn't very happy with this; on May 3, the squatters left the offices under threat of eviction.
In 1990, action taken to shelter fifteen Kurdish and Turkish refugees in a church at Flüeli-Ranft/Oberwallis came to a tragic end. Initially, there had been a great amount of unexpected support. Many people visited the refugees threatened by deportation, bringing supplies, helping to organize and signing letters of complaint. Charges brought against the person who had initiated the process, Peter Zuber, were refuted with the cries of protest from people saying "We hide refugees, too!". Peter and Heidi Zuber are still active in this field, and have been running the project"Support for Rejected Asylum Seekers" (AAA) since November 1984.. During a press conference (May 2, 1990) refugees being sheltered by the church of Flüeli-Ranft were brutally arrested whilst cameras were running. One week later they were deported. More tightening of the asylum and residence laws, part of coercive measures regarding the rights of aliens ZWM2 was accompanied by protest activities and an unsuccessful plebiscite in 1994. On December 4, over 70% of people entitled to vote in Switzerland agreed with a one year internment for rejected asylum seekers resisting deportation, as a move toward securing their deportation. From the end of September, Tamil refugees, together with the anti-racist café in Zürich, established a mobile refuge for five months. A similar refuge was created in Luzern, which ran for three months. In Bern, a daily meeting place was established by some people with experience of migration issues and the anti-racist Left. Since their introduction (February 1st 1995) the tightened laws against migrants (ZWM) had threatened the participants at these projects. This was because they ordered, amongst other things, the search of places under suspicion of holding illegal persons. In the end, the refugee groups ended their public protests without being dissolved entirely. [back to top]
In actual fact, it seems we have little to offer
Meanwhile two further referenda were rejected. This time they were directed against the revised asylum law and against the "urgent measures in the asylum sector" of June 1998. The latter, the so-called 'without-papers' ruling, was to facilitate a "change in trend" according to Parliament and the Federal Council. Since the introduction of the aforementioned laws, demands for asylum (reported at government checkpoints) are not being pursued where applicants, without apparent reason, are unable to show identity papers.
Officially, Switzerland used the conflict on the Balkans this year to push through its "The-boat-is-full" policy. For months, people from the Kosovo were only admitted at the Swiss border if they could show a visa. At the beginning of the NATO bombing, the Swiss department of justice and police (EJPD) tightened up the regulation concerning the allocation of visas. The result was disastrous: the asylum organisations seemed compelled to admit to Kosovan refugees that it was not possible for the relatives of Kosovans already living in Switzerland to come into the country by legal means.
Neither is the end of this story any more pleasant as regards the most recent steps in the asylum procedure. Whilst cases of death during deportation caused changes in the way deportations were executed (and political resignations in Belgium, Austria and Germany), the mass media in Switzerland reacted to the death of the Palestinian asylum seeker Kaled Abuzarifeh during his deportation (3, March) with nothing more than ten lines.
On 17, March, the human rights activist group "Open Your Eyes" (founded in Bern and Zürich in reaction to intensified police presence after the introduction of ZWM) found themselves compelled to sue the director of police, city councillors and any policemen and their superiors who had been involved in allowing a delay in investigations into the death of Kaled Abuzarifeh.
On the August 1, Switzerland's national holiday, the authorities announced finally that the deportee died because he had been gagged. When asked for a response to this, Swiss government councillor Dora Andres suggested that deportations should no longer be done on scheduled flights: 'Then they will really have something to complain about', she said.
In July 1999, Switzerland and Austria agreed on a contract to establish a common clearance area for deporting rejected asylum seekers by charter flight. The following autumn, government representatives from Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, Italy and Liechtenstein met to expand this project to the whole of Europe. In mid-October, groups concerned with asylum issues and human rights protested against this "Out of sight - out of mind policy" ,prevalent in all the larger cities in Switzerland. [back to top]
Federalism undermines solidarity
The 'without-papers' legislation in Switzerland is complicated, and each canton has its own ways of interpreting it. Whilst, for example, the cantons Aargau or St Gallen are particularly fussy about being as repressive as possible with instructions from the Bern headquarters, cantons such as Waadt fight them in whatever way they can. The government has also realised this, and has tried, using drastic measures, to force liberal cantons to tighten up their proceedings. In the meantime, the financial support for the (rejected) asylum seekers, which the government gives to the cantons serves to reprimand them. Already, for some years now, the government has withdrawn support money for people living there without residency status, but who have been 'tolerated'3.
On the September 23, 1991 it introduced the so-called Three Band System where people from certain countries; (Band 1: EU, Band 2: Canada, Australia, USA) are considered better able to adapt to our culture than the rest of the world (Band 3).
Since then, employers are only permitted in certain exceptional circumstances to recruit their workforce from the third band. These restrictions are in fact common practice in all EU countries, but only in Switzerland have they been openly founded in racism, and entered into the law books. The Swiss government used this ethnocentric/ racist standpoint to justify the abolition of the controversial system of temporary or seasonal work.
In the course of implementing the three-band system, thousands of seasonal workers lost their employment and residence rights and many of them now live and work 'illegally' in Switzerland.
At the beginning of 1997, inspired by the Sans Papiers struggle in France, some ex-seasonal workers from the former Yugoslavia in the canton of Waadt became active, and within a short space of time had the support of various churches, trade unions, asylum groups and employers. Through petitioning, letters and protest, the alliance gained wide local support from the press, the council of the canton and the 'civilian community'. In May 1997, the group presented a petition (4,500 signatures) demanding, amongst other things, that the canton grant them regular residence status within the contingent of people given the right to work and to stay for one year.
Although it brought an extension of the toleration period, because of the time-consuming application procedure the group were still living in a precarious situation by the end of 1999. Through toleration, they have the right to work and visit their families abroad, without losing toleration status. They pay tax and can register with the social and health insurance. However, they are excluded from government welfare and their future remains uncertain. A peculiarity of the cantons Geneva and Bern are the many embassies and foreign companies. As in many other states, numerous domestic servants slave away there, often under bad conditions.
The Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns, a group of people affected and supported by this, managed to win a court victory in residence and employment rights. In a brochure of the Geneva Forum, "Know your Rights" (1998), the Swiss lawyer Jean-Pierre Garbade pointed out that illegal persons still have rights. Questions regarding issues such as tax, overtime regulations and social insurance, and tips regarding attacks or sexual exploitation, were clearly outlined in 15 chapters. [back to top]
A Failed Attempt or a Supraregional Campaign?
With a platform to launch a support campaign in favour of Sans Papiers, on March 1, 30 organisations from churches, trade unions, asylum and anti-racist groups, as well as immigration organisations, took on the evaluation of their experiences to gain a supra-regional consensus.
On October 2, a supra-regional press conference took place and on the 18th, different groups in Bern, Zurich, Freiburg, Lausanne and Geneva took part in protests. There after, this co-operation weakened somewhat.
On January 23, 1999, only 15 people met in Bern and realized that the solidarity between the various towns and regions was not enough. Some had become involved exclusively with the issues of seasonal workers, whilst others had women's issues as their focus. Since then, such co-operation between regions has almost completely died out. [back to top]
Back to Resistance within Individual Cantons.
Thankfully, these developments have worked out to the good of more regional organization; in the meantime, networks, meeting regularly, have sprung up in various centres. To start with, they dealt with the exchange of information between individuals and organisations that were constantly having to deal with the problematic nature of the Sans Papiers.
The networks then developed support structures where each group could contribute its strong points and its experience of the various problematic cases, and in this way exchange and offer practical advice and support. The most advanced of these is the Zürich Network, which is mostly connected with women's organisations, and which has already for many years dealt with the specific situation of illegal women, especially in the sex industry.
The network is co-ordinated by the Women's Information Centre for Women from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (FIZ). The permit to stay for female dancers which is laid down in the law on aliens is especially unsavoury: their residency is limited to eight months. In addition it is dependent on a work contract of at least three months, therefore, on their bosses.4 In addition to this, married women from abroad are dependent on the residency status of their husbands for at least five years. The women's shelters (Frauenhäuser), immigrants and immigration organisations in Switzerland have tried since the end of 1996 to get a motion passed in parliament which would grant women residency status independent of their husbands.
On June 7, 1999, the upper chamber of parliament approved a paper taking the first step in such a motion, but it contains the questionable 'abuse clause'. The law must still be seen and approved by the lower chamber. Women who are married or in the sex industry are still isolated from the rest of society. In both cases, their struggle for independence often ends only with their chance of residence being taken away and ensuing illegality, which demonstrates further the authoritarian and patriarchal mechanisms of repression. Since the beginning of 1999, several organisations, also in Basle and Bern, consciously offered not only practical help, but for the present, more 'unofficial' help, in contrast to the Zurich groups. Some groups which do not agree with this concept have, despite this, joined the networks and are working in Bern to set up surgery for illegal women in the style of the "Berlin Model". [back to top]
A Revolutionary Act Is, And Remains, To Speak The Truth Out Loud.
In contrast to other European countries, two aspects can be pointed out in the case of Switzerland. The criminalisation of unwanted foreign women, the police raids, and the prosecutions in Switzerland have reached an unprecedented scale, and many activists in other countries who have visited me in recent times have expressed their shock at this. The local population is not really disturbed by this witch hunt, they turn a blind eye.
The partly traumatic events of the 80`s and early 90's seem to have so intimidated the activists of the time, that they prefer now to make their political demands anonymously, in case public protest puts them at further risk. I am amazed at the risks taken by these people, who defend part of the Swiss humanitarian tradition. To underline and clarify the common interest of different 'movements for the under-privileged' would, in my opinion, give us once again the opportunity to fight for a world where international solidarity, freedom and equality are the real maxims for living. To do this, without wanting to do so openly, in public, does not make sense to me, and in the end seems counterproductive. [back to top]
Asylum coordination, Switzerland
|Table1: Residencial status of migrants in Switzerland
||Figures (as of 31-8-98)
|C: residence permit
Valid until revoke, no voting right furthermore almostequal rights like swiss citizen
|-Migrants with 5 to 10 years residence (depending on their home country) in switzerland
-recognized refugees with more than five years of residence
-spouse of swiss citizen with residence of more than 5 years
|B:temporary resident permit
Valid for one yeat depending on (working) market regulations/contingents. Justified application of employers preliminary (exception: refugees) Change of workin or living space only with permission. Renewal of the permit can be denied. Possibility for a family join from one year on.
|-foreigen work force
-recognized refugees in their first five years of stay
-humanitarian admission in the first ten years
|A: seasoneer approval:
Valid mostly about nine month, no right of prolongation, no family join possible, no right to change living or working place / canton of switzerland liable to limitation of contingents for seasoneers.
|L: short term stay
only guaranted with employment, limited contingents for students, aprentices, etc.
no contingental limitation for artists (up to nine months)
|-aprentices, students, aupairs, etc.
|F: Provisional admission:
Timly limited substitution measurements for not executable expulsion. Renewable, possibility to obtain work permit depending on market conditions.
|-persons whom application for asylum was denied and their return was not possible. resonable or permitted
-refuges of war that obtaint their admission in groups
-tourists and guests with expired visa, but without possibility to return
Duration for three month, no werk permit, financial coverage necessary
|-guests and tourists from countries with visa obligation
Three month without work permit, no more than six month in a year, good financial standing is preliminary
|-guests and tourists from countries with visa obligation
Work permit after 3 to 6 month possible Change of working,/living place only with permission
working/residatial rights according to conventions/contracts between Switzerland and foreign country
|-international officials and their families
|Cited by Bundesamt fuer Fluechtlinge: AsylSchweiz, Winter 1998/1999
|Number of Persons:
|Denied entrance at the border1
|Sopped when attemptinto illegaly cross the border2
|Ordered entrance ban4
|Person doing illicit work
|Cited by Bundesamt for statistic, migration and foreign population in switzerland (für Statistik, Migration und ausländische Bevölkerung in der Schweiz )1997
1Because of invalid documents or expired visa
2People that seek for asylum or work
3After denial of the right of asylum or work
4for exmple violation of migration regulations or other laws
augenauf Zürich: 1 Jahr Illegalisierung und Kriminalisierung von Geächteten,
Zürich, März 1996
augenauf Zürich und Bern: Pressemappe, Zürich, Juni 1999
Bewegung zur Unterstützung der sans-papiers in der Schweiz: Plattform zur Lancierung einer Unterstützungskampagne:
Bern, Mai 1998
Bewegung zur Unterstützung der sans-papiers in der Schweiz: Pressemappe, Bern, 1998
BODS: 10 Jahre BODS!, Bern, Mai 1996
Caroni, Martina: Tänzerinnen und Heiratsmigrantinnen - Rechtliche Aspekte des Frauenhandels in der Schweiz,
Caritas-Verlag, Luzern 1996
Garbade, Jean Pierre: Know your rights, Genf, 1998
Mouvement des travailleurs saisonniers Ex-Yugoslaves Sans-Papiers du Canton Vaud: Dossier de presse, Lausanne, Octobre 1997
megafon: Schwerpunkt "asyl, refugien, bleiberecht", Bern, Juni 1999
These and other materials can be ordered at the Asylkoordination Schweiz
Translated by Odilia and Xandi [back to top]
1 The execution of the aliens' law (ZWM) was accompanied by an unprecedented media campaign focussing on foreign criminals;and in particular those active in the drug scene. The parliamentary discussion coincided with the abolition of the so-called open drugs scene in Zürich (on the Platzspitz and in the Letten-Areal). The authorities directed their attention to foreigners who did a small amount of dealing, but were accused of ruling the open drug scene. The ZWM were accepted by over 70% of the votes. The federal government promised the city authorities that this law would be an instrument for the smooth deportation of foreigners without papers,and criminal asylum seekers who had been rejected. In the discussion, all the aforementioned were termed "foreign drugs dealers". According to the new laws, these people can be interned for up to one year before their deportation, without going through any formal procedures. In addition to this 'administrative internment', the foreign police of the cantons obtained the right to prohibit these people from staying in their area. The people concerned are either prohibited from entering a certain district, e.g. the open drugs scene, or are confined to a clearly defined area. After the cantons and the cities had been given extra powers by these laws, they started to check, harass and arrest all kinds of people on the streets, mostly anyone who looked foreign; currently, people who look Albanian or African are most at risk. On several occasions, simply being present in the area declared an open drug scene by the police has led to people being banned from certain areas. Disregarding these bans has often ended in 'remand pending deportation'. Even the federal court reprimanded this practice of the Canton Bern in two published judgments. However, this didn't lead to a change in the procedure on a police level.
2 Plebiscites are a special aspect of direct democracy in Switzerland. According to this, new laws are subordinated to an optional plebiscite, while changes in the constitution have to be confirmed in an obligatory plebiscite. Besides that, Swiss citizens can initiate plebiscites about changes in the constitution. In this case, 100,000 signatures of registered Swiss voters are needed within eighteen months. For an optional plebiscite 50,000 signatures are sufficient; they have to be collected within 6 months.
3 The cantons have a free hand in issuing the contingent of residence permits for one year (see Table 1). Every year, they are awarded a contingent of residence permits by the federacy. On the basis of the 3 Band Model that was introduced in 1991, the scope of the Cantons was limited. In reaction to that, the more liberal Cantons agreed to tolerate certain categories of people in their territory. This included people that were excluded from the group that could get a residence permit.
4 Foreign women working in the sex industry in Switzerland are given a limited residence permit for artists (L), (Table 1), which can't be transmitted to other work-places.
5 A binding démarche (step or proposal) in the parliament, that forces the government to seize a new law initiative. [back to top]