New research by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe highlights that throughout the Swiss asylum process freedom of movement for asylum applicants is considerably restricted. This is the case from the moment an application is lodged, either at an airport, crossing point or registration centre to the final procedure of removal.  The report notes that at all of these locations the asylum applicants movement is curtailed, either within the airport, or to registration and processing centres or to ‘special centres’ where the applicant is viewed as a ‘trouble maker’.

JRS Europe underlines that “detention is imposed and applied at the discretion of the administrative authority without any prior assessment of the judicial authority and the possibility of resorting to other less coercive measures first is rarely considered”. Furthermore, the research highlights that detention of migrants and asylum seekers is not surrounded by all the safeguards that criminal law provides for detention of criminals.

The Federal Office for Migration who examine asylum applications in Switzerland can hold the applicant for anywhere between 2 days and 12 months depending on the place in which the applicant lodged their request and/or their allocation of stay by the authorities. The average length of detention per person between 2008 and 2012 ranged from 31 days for detention in preparation for departure to 155 days for coercive detention.

According to the Global Detention Project, in Switzerland people who cannot be returned are often released just before they have reached the maximum length of detention. However, they are not issued a residence permit, leaving them vulnerable to criminal sanctions for irregular stay in the country (for up to a year), and re-detention.

The report concludes that there have been 7,136 decisions that imposed detention during the asylum or removal proceeding or in the removal period between 2008 and 2010. Although it is not possible to obtain from the authorities a list of structures for the administrative detention of asylum seekers, according to JRS, it appears that of the 28 centres widely used for detention of asylum seekers, only 7 are specifically reserved for migrants, 2 are located in airports, and 19 are prisons in which migrants are not always held separately from criminals.


This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 3 October 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.