Charged with coordinating the implementation of Swiss immigration policies is the Swiss Federal Office for Migration (FOM), which was formed in 2005. Among its responsibilities are managing adjudication of asylum claims and overseeing deportations, including the controversial “vols speciaux”—or “special flights”—that are arranged in cases of coercive expulsions from the country. In addition, the FOM is responsible for the detention of asylum seekers in transit zones as well as for their accommodation during their procedures.
Uneven application of detention
Cantonal immigration authorities are responsible for enforcing detention and deportation measures in their regions. Because cantons have discretion in their implementation of federal immigration law, enforcement practices can differ from one canton to the next. In 2005, a parliamentary report concluded that detention practices “range from restrictive application (Geneva) to a firm and regular application (Basel-Country, Valais, and Zurich), to a restrained application (Schaffhousen).
One manifestation of this uneven application of detention practices are the disparate conditions one finds at Switzerland’s detention centres. While some Swiss facilities—notably, Frambois in Geneva and Witzwil in Bern—have been recognized for their humane regimes, other facilities have been heavily criticized for imposing conditions on migrant detainees that are more punitive than those for criminal detainees. Zurich Airport Prison is one such facility.
Criminalization of migration
That Swiss authorities appear to routinely charge foreign nationals with criminal violations because of their irregular status also places Switzerland in exclusive company, in this case the small—albeit growing—group of nations that formally criminalize immigration violations. In Europe, the most notable case in this respect is Italy, which adopted a law in 2009 that introduced the crime of irregular stay, punishable by imprisonment and fines. Other notable cases include the United States and Lebanon. There is an increasing trend toward imposing criminal sanctions for status-related violations, and Switzerland’s role in this trend has hitherto gone largely unnoticed.