UK

Asylum Seekers In Switzerland, Banned From Swimming Pools, Now Must Take DNA Tests

20/08/2013 11:02 BST

As war tore through Europe twice in the last century, Switzerland was the haven for refugees and revolutionaries, driven from their homes by violence, racism and persecution.

But now a change in local authorities' attitudes to those seeking refuge in its mountains has been called "verging on apartheid" by Amnesty International and condemned by Human Rights Watch.

New measures introduced this month across Swiss cantons ban asylum seekers, known as 'Sans-Papiers' [without papers], from swimming pools, playgrounds and libraries.

asylum switzerland

Illegal immigrants bring their belongings into a van in front of the Prediger Church in Zurich, Switzerland

And now some Swiss cantons will demand systematic DNA tests on asylum seekers - specifically Eritreans - who say they are coming to the country to join family members, the Schweiz Am Sonntag newspaper reported this week.

"Identity papers or birth certificates must be considered as suspect," guidelines from Bern's migration service say.

Swiss law currently allows case-by-case requests for DNA tests when there is serious doubt that a claimant belongs to the same family, according to France 24.

"It is a hot summer. What if I could not go to the pool? What if I could not go to the school to pick up my child?" Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher based in Geneva, wrote in a blog for Human Rights Watch.

As the home to 75,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, Switzerland still has the chance to avoid sullying its reputation and subjecting itself to global shame and embarrassment. Switzerland should be true to its legal obligations and the founding principles of respect for diversity and tolerance on which the UN – which Switzerland hosts – is based.

The country is home to 75,000 asylum seekers, from countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, and twice the European average seek refuge there each year.

The country has always demanded that those seeking refuge agree to abide by the country's "Hausordnung", not just laws, but also its "house rules" for behaviour and civility in residential areas and public spaces.

The local "Hausordnung" will now in many cases include the prohibition of asylum seekers from swimming in local pools or going near a school, without express permission, resulting in fines or confinement.

Switzerland’s Federal Office of Immigration has endorsed the restrictions "to ensure a peaceful and orderly coexistence of residents and asylum-seekers,” according to the Independent.

Across the country, army mountain bunkers have been turned into fortress-like refugee centres, in extremely remote areas. Their residents have no towns to visit and cannot leave after 5pm, spending days building infrastructure and mountain roads.