1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
Opponents of the new law protest, holding a banner showing the Swiss border as barbed wire
Around 400 opponents of the new law demonstrated in Zurich after the referendumImage: AP

Tough Take on Foreigners

DW staff (ncy)
September 25, 2006

Swiss voters on Sunday approved legislation that would give their country some of the most restrictive legislation on asylum seekers in Europe, sparking criticism from papers around Europe.


"Like its neighbors, the small but wealthy country has made its borders tighter," commented Freiburg's Badische Zeitung newspaper, from just over the border. "However, if one looks closely, the law also includes improvements for asylum seekers and immigrants. For example, rejected asylum seekers who for humanitarian reasons will not be deported are to receive a work permit. A provision for hardship cases also entitles them to a residence permit if they have been successfully integrated. This double strategy unexpectedly brought the right-wing populist (Justice Minister Christoph) Blocher great acclamation. Everyday practice will show which of the two sides of the new law will have the stronger effect."

"Is the Blocherization of Switzerland now a threat? Asked the Südkurier, another German daily working from near the border, in Constance. "The (voters') decision is certainly problematic, but due to the entirely different democratic system, a shift to the right can't be read from it. Referendums in the confederation are always snapshots. In contrast to 1992, this time the right managed to put the issue of asylum abuse in the forefront. Thus, voters who think little of Blocher also said yes. Every nation certainly has the right to enact clear regulations so that legislation regarding guests isn't taken advantage of. Nevertheless, there is unease. Among every stream of refugees there are persecuted people who must be helped without bureaucracy. Switzerland is battening down the hatches against them too -- confident that others will come to their assistance. The Germans, for example."

Refugees guarded by Italian police in Lampedusa
Illegal immigrants in Italy: Switzerland plans to rely on its neighbors to avoid accepting refugeesImage: dpa - Fotoreport

"Amnesty International and the UN refugee organization have reacted to the tightening of the asylum and foreigner legislation with criticism," wrote Spanish daily El Mundo. "The new regulation, among other things, allows illegal immigrants who show up in Switzerland to be arrested. The result of the referendum is understandable, however, if one takes into account that every fifth inhabitant of Switzerland is of foreign origin. Thus, the proportion of foreigners is far higher than the average in the European Union. There is, as one minister put it, not room for everyone there."

"Europe is so coveted among refugees as well as by migrants, because it is Europe: because of its prosperity, but also its code of values -- which are closely tied," commented Austria's Der Standard newspaper. "At the same time, Europe is still far from finding a common answer to the asylum and migration problem. That was demonstrated again just recently at the meeting of EU interior and justice ministers in Tampere. Attempts to dismantle the principle of unanimity and to come to a common asylum and immigration policy through majority decisions still fail due to broad resistance. Many countries don't want to cede sovereign rights, because they believe they will cope with the problems better irregardless of other states."

"Such overwhelming majorities for the legislation on foreigners and especially for the revision of asylum law were not expected," the Neue Zürcher Zeitung pointed out. "And, in as far as votes on migration policies aren't only about concrete contents but also about general attitudes to foreigners, the massive double yes can't leave liberal supporters pleased. If the approval of tightening asylum law expresses more than concerns about administrative difficulties with a couple thousand rejected applicants without travel documents, it opens up a broad field for interpretation. Crime, the loss of economic and cultural certainties or Islam as a bogeyman are common keywords in explanation attempts. But more precise analyses and conclusions are tasks for more than just the day of the referendum."

Christoph Blocher, smiling
Blocher and his party got their wayImage: AP

"There can be no argument about it: A good two-thirds of the voters said yes to the new asylum law," wrote Zurich's Tages-Anzeiger. "The discontent is too great about foreigners who deceive the authorities to get admission to Switzerland, the paradise of prosperity. The abuse dominated the discussion -- the opponents failed to lead it in other directions and experienced a crushing defeat. … The clear result will namely give a boost to those powers within the (Blocher's) Swiss People's Party, who want to take advantage of the still diffuse fears of the foreign in order to reap election successes.

"Thus, the Swiss People's Party will in the future only make an issue of abuse and attempt to torpedo the integration of the foreigners who live here," the paper continued. "The other mainstream parties must not let that happen. For, yesterday the people also clearly said yes to the new law on foreigners that is supposed to improve integration. … If the double yes leads to the center parties relegating the abuse discussion to the past and embracing integration, good will also have come from yesterday's result."

Skip next section Explore more