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28 May 2020 – Switzerland

Bunkbeds in a Dormitory of a Federal Asylum Centre, (Anthony Anex, Keystone,
Bunkbeds in a Dormitory of a Federal Asylum Centre, (Anthony Anex, Keystone, "Die Schweiz stoppt Ausschaffungen von Asylbewerbern – erster Corona-Fall im Bundeszentrum Zürich," Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 26 March 2020,

Since the beginning of April, certain immigration detention centres, including the Frambois and Favra centres in Geneva, have been closed. Around 30 people were detained in the centres at the time. Reports suggest that they may have been assigned to a temporary residence or may be prohibited from entering a specific perimeter or region. The situation in Geneva is complicated by the fact that detention spaces in the canton are shared with other cantons as part of an agreement, or “concordat.” However, according to Tribune de Genève, Geneva is taking charge of all detainees previously held in the Vaud and Neuchâtel cantons.

In Bern, certain immigration detainees have been released by order of the court. Nonetheless, the Director of Security of Bern rejected a request to release all immigration detainees and stated that every case is examined individually. At the end of March, it was reported that around a dozen asylum seekers and seven employees had been infected with the virus in the federal asylum centres.

The halt of deportations may also have legal consequences, as reported by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. As authorities have a period of six months to return rejected asylum seekers in Dublin procedures, depending upon the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, numerous deportations may no longer be feasible. As stated by Marcel Suter from the cantonal migration authorities, “if returns are stopped for a long time, it is difficult to get them going again.”

Migrant workers in irregular situations in Switzerland (estimated at 100,000) have been left in a precarious situation due to the coronavirus crisis. Various organisations and support centres in Zurich, Lucerne, Basel, Bern, Geneva, and Lausanne have been providing food and food vouchers. However, requests for advice and financial support have continued to flood in. Bea Schwager, head of the Zurich centre SPAZ (Sans-Papiers Anlaufstelle Zürich), said that “in Zurich, over 400 people have called us for financial aid to cover essential expenses during confinement.” She added that the organisation had “received about CHF 100,000 but much of that money has already been spent.” In Lausanne, before the crisis, the Protestant church gave out 80 food rations, whereas today, it distributes 350. In mid-April, the Protestant Social Centre and the Vaud Collective Support of Sans Papiers, together with other organisations, wrote to the federal, cantonal, and municipal authorities requesting financial aid and other support for the most vulnerable. For now however, no response has been provided.

On 1 April, the Swiss Federal Council passed a legal order (ordonnance Covid-19 asile) regarding the measures taken with respect to asylum in view of the Covid-19 crisis. Article 6 of the order allows the Swiss Migration Secretariat (Secrétariat d’Etat aux Migrations, or SEM) to conduct an interview without a legal representative being present with the asylum seeker. In addition, following a review of the asylum legislation in March 2019, time limits for appeals against negative asylum decisions had been reduced from 30 days to 7. The order has now amended this time-frame and re-established a 30 day period for people to respond to decisions by the SEM.

In some of the country’s prisons, alternatives to incarceration have been implemented. In Bern, 27 vulnerable prisoners that were accommodated in open or semi-open prisons have been released. In addition, sentences of less than 30 days for prisoners that “do not present any risk for society” have been suspended. In the Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva, the number of inmates has been reduced from 650 to 560 as certain detainees have been assigned to house arrest, given electronic tags and others have been given reporting obligations. As of 15 April, authorities had confirmed that there were 35 people that tested positive in prisons, including 33 staff members.