Switzerland migrant children demand immigration policy apology

Of note:

Children of migrants who came to work in Switzerland over decades are demanding an apology for a policy they say destroyed families and left many traumatised.

From the 1950s right up until the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of workers – first from Italy, then from Spain, Portugal, and what was then Yugoslavia – made the journey to Switzerland.

They worked in factories, on roads and building sites, in restaurants and hotels. Switzerland’s highly successful economy, its good infrastructure, is without doubt due in part to them.

But there were flaws in the system. The migrants were given nine- or 12-month permits; many lived in barracks, their only function in Switzerland was to work.

And family members – including young children – were not allowed. A husband and wife could work together in Switzerland, but, the work permits stipulated, their children had to stay at home.

Forbidden children

Egidio Stigliano, now in his 60s, remembers being taken at the age of three by his grandmother to wave to a train leaving Italy to Switzerland.

“I didn’t know my mother was on the train,” he remembers. “They thought I was too young to be told what was happening. But my mother wanted to see me one last time.”

The system might have worked if the migrant workers had really been temporary. But their permits were renewed year after year, and some spent their entire lives working in Switzerland.

Melinda Nadj Obonji was just a year old when she and her older brother were left with their grandmother in Vojvodina in Serbia. Despite their “no children” seasonal work permits, Melinda’s parents hoped that, once settled in Switzerland, they would be allowed to send for their children.

“They wrote letters to the immigration police, but they were rejected, [the police] were very strict. I think this traumatised them for life, and also us kids of course.” Melinda now believes the migrant worker laws “really destroyed our family”.

Many might ask why parents desperate to be reunited with their children did not simply go home. But, as is so often the case with migrant workers, the money they earned abroad kept poverty at bay at home.

In Italy, Portugal, or Kosovo, families and even entire villages came to be dependent on the money sent from Switzerland. Meanwhile Switzerland’s economy boomed on the back of foreign labour.

Kristina Schulz, a historian and specialist in migration at Neuchatel University, points out that, in the aftermath of World War Two, the Swiss system of recruiting workers from neighbouring countries was viewed very positively.

“Those other countries were war-torn… and Switzerland needed workers. Southern Italy was poor… it was thought it was practically a humanitarian act to have them work here.”

But many parents, among them Egidio Stigliano’s, could not bear to be parted from their children. They developed secret strategies for coping with the immigration restrictions. Instead of pleading with the authorities to let their children in, they smuggled them in anyway and kept them hidden.

Egidio arrived when he was seven. “From the first moment in Switzerland I hid,” he says. “My dad couldn’t explain the immigration policy to a child, so he just said, don’t let anyone see you, just stay hidden and play in the woods. So that’s what I did.”

Staying hidden meant not going to school. It meant, when Egidio broke his arm, having to find a doctor who would keep quiet rather than go straight to hospital. But one day, in the woods, Egidio came across another group of children, and could not resist joining in their games.

That evening the police were at the door, telling his parents the child would have to leave. Only the intervention of Egidio’s father’s boss, who agreed to sponsor him, allowed him to stay.

By the 1970s, it is estimated there were thousands of hidden children in Switzerland. Today, in the history museum of the Swiss watchmaking town La Chaux de Fonds, there is an exhibition showing what their lives were like.

Some mothers admit that they locked their children in their apartments during the day, in order to ensure no one saw them. The children were allowed out to play at night. Many families lived in tiny studios because, the exhibition explains, having a bigger apartment more suited to a family would have aroused suspicion.

“It’s hard to imagine children locked at home, living alone, no school,” says museum director Francesco Garufo. “And it’s recent history… it’s just yesterday.”

Historian Kristina Schulz finds the children’s stories all the more shocking given Switzerland’s devotion to family life after the war.

“This was the new ideology in Switzerland… the idea of the holy family that needed to be protected, women couldn’t vote in Switzerland until 1971, they weren’t meant to work, they were at home with the children. So the idea of systematically destroying the families of migrant workers is really astonishing.”

Family protests

Gradually, Switzerland’s strategy began to be undermined. Migrant workers protested, local police and teachers turned a blind eye to the “illegal” children in their communities, some villages even set up underground schools for migrant children.

The famous Swiss author Max Frisch joined the debate, writing “we wanted workers, but we got people instead”.

Children, among them Melinda and Egidio, began to join their parents. Melinda, who was reunited with her parents when she was five, is now a writer and musician in Zurich, Egidio a neuro educator in St Gallen.

In some ways, they count themselves among the luckier ones: after pressure from Rome, the children of Italian migrants were allowed in once their parents had worked more than five years in Switzerland. Melinda’s parents finally found a sympathetic Swiss bureaucrat and got permission to bring their children.

But while it was sometimes applied arbitrarily, the law banning children remained, and many families remained divided for decades.

The seasonal work permit was finally abolished in 2002, when Switzerland agreed to join the EU’s free movement of people policy. Today, the children of the migrant workers are adults, and many, including Melinda and Egidio, have formed a group demanding at least an acknowledgement of what they went through.

“First, I’d like an apology from the Swiss state,” says Melinda.

“I want the story of migrant workers to be in Swiss history books, because thousands of families suffered,” adds Egidio.

An honest reassessment of history, and an apology, could be likely. Switzerland has already done this over its World War Two policy of turning away Jewish refugees, and over the way it removed children from single mothers or socially “problematic” families and sent them to work on farms – where they were often abused.

Financial compensation has also been mentioned, but for Egidio recognition is more important. “The time I could have spent with my family, at school, I can’t get back. There’s no compensation for that.”

The reappraisal of history has already begun, in a research project by Kristina Schulz at Neuchatel University, and at the museum in La Chaux de Fonds.

But for museum director Francesco Garufo, it is about more than facing up to Switzerland’s past. He thinks, as Europe continues its often negative debate over immigration, that lessons could be learned for the future.

“In a rich country, having thousands of children hidden, without social rights, it’s not the model we want today in Europe. So we have to think about this kind of migration choice.

Source: Switzerland migrant children demand immigration policy apology

Switzerland: Calls grow to ban Nazi symbols and salutes

Of note:

At a rally protesting against anti-Covid measures in September 2021, a demonstrator made a Nazi salute – right in the middle of Bern’s Old Town. The public prosecutor’s office consequently issued the demonstrator with a penalty order for improper behaviour. However, the man successfully contested the notice. There was no legal basis for a conviction, a local court ruled.

A neo-Nazi who made the same salute in 2010 on Rütli Meadow in the canton of Uri also ended up being acquitted. The Swiss Federal Court ruled in 2013 that the man had been expressing his own convictions among like-minded people, and that this was not a criminal offence. Had he been making the salute to spread Nazi ideology on the other hand, he would have been punished under Swiss anti-racism laws.

These examples show that Switzerland has a certain tolerance threshold when it comes to making Nazi symbols and gestures. Nazi salutes, swastikas, etc. are banned only when used for propaganda purposes. Political efforts to scrap this distinction have been ongoing since 2003. Majorities in the Federal Council [Swiss government] and parliament have so far judged freedom of expression to be more important, but the perception seems to be shifting now. Three motions on the issue have been submitted in parliament – one from the centre right and two from the left.

Spate of incidents during the pandemic

Parliamentarian for The Centre, Marianne Binder, set the ball rolling in winter. Binder wants a complete ban on Nazi gestures, flags and symbols, both in the real world and online. Explaining her motion, she said: “Anti-Semitic incidents have increased and took on a new dimension during the pandemic.”

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG) and the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism (GRA) confirm this. According to their Report on Anti-Semitism, 2021 saw a proliferation of anti-Semitic incidents in Switzerland. There were 806 reports of online anti-Semitic content including anti-Semitic conspiracy theories – a more than 60% increase on the previous year.

There were 53 real-world anti-Semitic incidents, which included verbal abuse, public statements and offensive graffiti on synagogues. Anti-vaccine protesters wore Stars of David inscribed with the word “unvaccinated”. And in a Zurich suburb, they graffitied “Impfen [vaccination] macht frei” – a play on words on the infamous gate at Auschwitz – next to a swastika. People argue that the protesters need not have had anti-Semitic motives, says Binder. “You can plead stupidity, but how blind to history can you be?” she asks, adding that it constitutes an intolerable trivialisation of the Holocaust.

Binder deliberately restricted the motion to focusing on symbols and gestures related to Nazism and the Holocaust, whereas previous motions had targeted symbols and gestures encouraging racism and violence in general. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to list every single possible infraction. But Nazi symbols and salutes are unambiguous. “They certainly do not come under freedom of expression.”

Parliamentarians Gabriela Suter and Angelo Barrile, both from the Social Democratic Party, doubled down with similar parliamentary initiatives. The SIG endorsed the motions in January 2022, the first time it has explicitly put its weight behind initiatives of this type. Far-right extremists at protest rallies and concerts were specifically taking advantage of Switzerland’s legal loophole, it said. “This is particularly hurtful and bewildering for the minorities affected.”

The Council of the Swiss Abroad, which represents the interests of the “Fifth Switzerland” via-à-vis the authorities and the general public, also expressed support in March for criminalising all use of Nazi symbols and gestures in public. On behalf of the delegation from Israel, Ralph Steigrad noted that Switzerland had been debating the issue for almost 20 years: “It now needs to act and follow the examples of other countries.” This did not mean stopping symbols from being shown in teaching material for purely educational purposes, he stressed.

However, the Federal Council initially wanted to leave things as they were for the time being and rejected Marianne Binder’s motion. Even though Nazi symbols and salutes were “shocking”, they had to be tolerated as an exercise of freedom of expression, it wrote in reply. Educating people was better than enacting a ban.

Experts are divided

Legal and extremism experts are divided over the issue. Some say that far-right extremists might even feel vindicated if criminal proceedings were brought against them, and that a sweeping ban potentially moves us to a kind of penal law focused on punishing offenders’ attitudes or belief systems instead of the act itself.

Others argue that Nazi symbols pose a threat to peaceful, democratic society and are unacceptable in any country governed by the rule of law. And lo and behold, the Federal Council appears to have overcome its initial hesitancy amid reports that Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter is looking into the matter after all. She said her ministry would now see what legal options are available.

Keller-Sutter also wrote a reply to the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) – via which the Council of the Swiss Abroad had expressed its concerns to the Federal Council –assuring it that the government was well aware of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Switzerland.

By all means you can prevent anti-Semitism and ban Nazi symbols at the same time, says Binder. It is necessary to do both. Building a Holocaust memorial (see box) while continuing to allow Nazi symbols and salutes defeats the object. Parliament is set to debate Binder’s motion in its summer session.

Source: Calls grow to ban Nazi symbols and salutes

Swiss government rejects automatic citizenship for those born in Switzerland

Of note:

On 15 June 2022, a proposal put forward by Stefania Prezioso Batou, a federal parliamentarian from Geneva, to grant automatic citizenship to those born in Switzerland was rejected by 112 to 75 votes in Switzerland’s federal parliament, reported 20 Minutes.

Batou would like to see the introduction of jus soliwhere a child born in Switzerland to foreign parents and schooled in Switzerland would automatically qualify for Swiss citizenship at the age of 18.

Those against the idea argued that being born and raised in Switzerland did not guarantee integration. In addition, automating the process at a federal level would run counter to cantonal independence on the naturalisation process.

A similar proposal was rejected in December 2021 by the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house.

Unrestricted jus soli, or birthright citizenship, is rare beyond North and South America, where it remains the norm. Beyond these regions, only Chad, Lesotho, Tanzania, Tuvalu and Pakistan have it, while another 30 odd nations have restricted forms of it.

Gaining Swiss citizenship is slow and difficult. It requires a minimum of 10 years residence in Switzerland on the right kind of permit and a long list of other requirements. Applications for Swiss nationality must be approved by the federal administration, cantons and the municipality where the applicant resides. In the end, many who call Switzerland home never get around to becoming Swiss, sometimes after several generations.

Source: Swiss government rejects automatic citizenship for those born in Switzerland

Switzerland Wants to Make It Easier for Third Generation Immigrants to Gain Swiss Citizenship – SchengenVisaInfo.com

Still one of the harder citizenships to acquire:

The Swiss Federal Migration Commission wants to make it easier for third-generation immigrants to obtain Swiss citizenship by removing several bureaucratic procedures and requirements.

Though in a referendum held on February 12, 2017, the voters had supported changes to the constitution in order to make it easier for people born in Switzerland, whose grandparents had immigrated to the country to obtain citizenship, a recent study of the Federal Commission on Migration shows that there is still a low rate of applicants who meet this condition that are gaining citizenship.

In a press release issued last week, the Federal Commission has revealed that out of the approximately 25,000 applications for citizenship submitted by this category since February 15, 2018, only 1,847 had been granted Swiss citizenship until the end of 2020.

The Commission believes that there are too many unnecessary requirements hindering the process for these people.

The will of the people and the estates must be implemented. These people have long been part of Switzerland – Switzerland needs them!” the President of the EKM, Walter Leimgruber, says.

Amongst the main requirements that the Commission wants to abolish is the age limit. The current rules on applying for Swiss citizenship as a third-generation immigrant state that the application must be submitted before the 25th birthday.

Since many people only want to naturalize a little later, after completing their training or when starting a family, this age limit is not justified. The legal age limit does not correspond to the reality of the life of those affected. It should therefore be abolished,” the Commission claims.

It also states the requirement of proof of belonging to the third generation of foreigners is too complicated, as amongst others it includes:

  • proof that the grandparents were entitled to reside in Switzerland
  • proof that the father or mother attended compulsory school for at least five years,
  • evidence one parent lived in Switzerland for ten years and has a permanent residence permit

And finally, the Commission wants to make it easier for people wishing to become Swiss citizens as third-generation immigrants to access information and advice on the procedures.

Due to the complicated regulations, it is often a challenge for local authorities to provide competent advice to those wishing to naturalize. In order to facilitate the naturalization of third-generation people, local authorities need to be empowered to give them appropriate advice,” the Commission states.

Data by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office show that 0.2 per cent of the Swiss population are foreign nationals from the third or a higher generation. Another about five per cent are second-generation immigrants, of whom 3.6 are naturalized and another 2.4 of foreign citizenship.

The Swiss are one of the world populations that are most satisfied with the quality of life in their home country. According to the 2020 Income and Living Conditions Survey (SILC) of the Swiss Statistical Office, 40.4 per cent of the population aged 16 and over noted that they were very satisfied with their current life. Whereas in 2014, 39 per cent of the population aged 16 and over believed the same.

Source: Switzerland Wants to Make It Easier for Third Generation Immigrants to Gain Swiss Citizenship – SchengenVisaInfo.com

Switzerland – Voting rights: ‘The foreign community is too big to be ignored’

One of the most restrictive approaches:

One in three Swiss residents is not allowed to take part in national elections and votes. In most cases that’s because they don’t have Swiss citizenship. How does it feel to live in the country that holds the most referendums in the world without being able to vote?

 “I’ve lived in several countries, but my experience in Switzerland is the first time I’ve been directly confronted with a situation where other inhabitants make decisions about my life and my welfare,” says Estefania Cuero, who has an Ecuadorian and a German passport and has lived in Switzerland for four years. “This is very new to me – and sometimes, very unpleasant.”Cuero, a diversity consultant and doctoral candidate at the University of Lucerne, says specific issues are behind that feeling. “The vote on the burqa ban [passed in March by 51.2% of voters] really affected me. I felt unwelcome – even though I don’t wear a niqab and I’m not Muslim. But for me the message behind it was: ‘We don’t want to see anyone here who looks foreign’.

The purpose of direct democracy is to involve the population in political decision-making. But regular referendums and people’s initiatives repeatedly reveal who does not belong to the electorate.

Of Switzerland’s resident population of about 8.7 million, around 35% are not allowed to vote at a national level.

“You often hear ‘Switzerland has voted’ or ‘Switzerland has decided’,” Cuero says. “But if 35% aren’t allowed to vote, then a statement like that is problematic, maybe even wrong. It’s not Switzerland but very specific individuals or a group that can decide for others and therefore exercises power over other groups that belong to Switzerland.”

The biggest group of people excluded from decisions on national issues is foreigners. Switzerland takes the same approach as almost all other countries on this. Only four countries in the world allow non-citizens to vote at a national level: Chile, Uruguay, New Zealand and Malawi. But in Switzerland the question of participation for foreign residents is more pressing than in other countries because the proportion of foreigners is high: roughly a quarter of permanent residents are not Swiss.

This can lead to strange situations. At the 2019 federal elections the municipality of Spreitenbach in northern Switzerland was home to as many adult foreigners as people with voting rights. The electorate accounted for only 39% of the population. What’s more, the turnout in Spreitenbach was very low, so only 10% of all residents took part in the elections.

For a very long time another huge segment of society was excluded from democratic representation: women. “The share of foreign residents has reached dimensions that can no longer be ignored,” says Sanija Ameti, co-president of the pro-European Operation Libero movement.

Ameti was three when her parents fled from Bosnia to Switzerland. When she was young, a number of people’s initiatives, usually launched by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, concerned migration policy and often stirred up sentiment against the Balkan diaspora.

“My parents and I had no voice in these votes even though we were directly affected by them. It was extremely frustrating, because we had no choice but to put up with the xenophobic and anti-Muslim politics,” Ameti says, adding that this was one of the reasons she entered politics.

“The mass immigration initiative politicised me,” says Hendrik Jansen, who was born, raised and educated in Switzerland. Today he works in public administration and can’t voice his opinion in public, so we have changed his name.

In 2014 Swiss voters narrowly approved a proposal to curb immigration, imposing limits on the number of foreigners allowed into the country.

Jansen emphasises that as a Dutchman he has an easier time than other migrants. “People rarely have issues with northern Europeans,” he says. “When I say where I come from, the response is often: ‘You’re one of the good ones!’ But the law doesn’t care about that: a tighter law on deportation, for example, affects everyone without a passport equally.

Voting rights as a means of integration?

Jansen, who is active in clubs and does voluntary work, could vote if he adopted Swiss citizenship. So why doesn’t he? “On the municipal level, at the very least, citizenship shouldn’t be a prerequisite,” he says. “If I’m engaged in society, I should be able to vote.”

He thus addresses one of the key arguments put forward by advocates for foreigners’ voting rights: residents without a Swiss passport take part in community life and pay taxes in Switzerland – why shouldn’t they be able to vote on what happens with that money?

They are directly affected by Swiss laws, so why should one section of the population be denied a say in rules it must obey? At the same time, Switzerland guarantees the right to vote to one group of people who neither pay taxes in Switzerland nor are directly affected by most of the laws: Swiss expatriates.

Even if Jansen wanted to become Swiss, it would take a while. He recently moved – only a few kilometres away, but into a new municipality. That means any application for citizenship would have to wait several years.

Ameti, on the other hand, did gain Swiss citizenship and is an active politician in the Liberal Green Party. “I was lucky to be able to apply for citizenship in the city of Zurich,” she says. “The citizenship process is not as fair everywhere – in some municipalities people are subjected to real harassment.”

Ameti thinks the idea of integration via political participation should be revived. The example of Jens Weber shows that this can work.

Weber lives in the northeastern municipality of Trogen, one of the few villages in German-speaking Switzerland that recognises foreigners’ right to vote (see box). As an American, he was elected to the local council in 2006. “It was one of the best days of my life, when I went to Trogen in 2006 and could say ‘right, now I can join in!’” he said in an SWI swissinfo.ch panel discussion. “This experience had a major impact on me and convinced me that I wanted to become a Swiss citizen,” he says.

Diversity taken for granted

However, a possible reform of the voting or naturalisation laws is not the only decisive factor in the fair treatment of the many Swiss residents without citizenship.

“What’s needed is an honest discussion about what and who Switzerland is,” Cuero says. “We need Switzerland’s self-image to mirror the diversity of this society.”

“Anyone who insists there is a single defining Swiss culture should explain the Rösti ditch to me,” says Jansen, referring to the linguistic divide between the French- and German-speaking parts of the country. “The Swiss are not all the same. There are differences between them that are not necessarily smaller than the differences between a Swiss person and a foreigner.”

Source: Voting rights: ‘The foreign community is too big to be ignored’

Switzerland’s Mid-Pandemic Burqa Ban Doesn’t Protect Liberal Values or Security. It Marginalizes Muslim Women.

Of note:

Switzerland, hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has been in a partial shutdown since January. Face masks are mandatory everywhere from public transportation to the country’s idyllic ski slopes. But that reality didn’t stop a slim majority of Swiss voters from approving a ban on full-face coverings in public spaces in a March 7 referendum.

The new ban wasn’t motivated by anti-mask sentiment. In fact, it won’t apply to facial coverings worn for health reasons—now or after the pandemic. Rather, the measure was aimed at a minuscule minority of Muslim women who wear the burqa or niqab. And while similar initiatives in France, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Austria have always been controversial, the deeply ironic timing of Switzerland’s burqa ban proves once and for all that efforts to ban face coverings were never really about supposed security concerns surrounding face concealment in public spaces. At their core, burqa bans have always been an attempt to marginalize Muslim women—and they have succeeded in bringing anti-Muslim sentiment into the mainstream.

Switzerland’s referendum was the product of a people’s initiative launched by the Egerkinger Komitee, an advocacy group that includes members of the right-wing, national conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and aimsto organize against “the claims to power of political Islam in Switzerland.” Arguing that “free people show their face” and “the burqa and niqab are not normal clothes,” the group in 2017 collected the required 100,000 petition signatures to put the issue to a referendum. On March 7, 51.2 percent of Swiss voters approved it.

The deeply ironic timing of Switzerland’s burqa ban proves it was never about supposed security concerns.

Clamping down on the visibility of Muslims in Switzerland is nothing new. Swiss Muslims have been under scrutiny since 2004, when Switzerland held a pair of referendums on measures that would have eased access to citizenship for second- and third-generation immigrants. The SVP’s strong mobilization against the initiatives transformed them instead into cultural referendums on whether Muslims are part of the Swiss national community, a notion the majority of Swiss voters rejected. Then, in 2009, the Egerkinger Komitee proposed an initiative that sought to ban minarets on the grounds that they are a symbol of political Islam. It was approved by 57.5 percent of Swiss voters despite the opposition of domestic Muslim organizations and church leaders from other religious groups.

In December 2014, the SVP first sought to prohibit full-face coverings via a parliamentary initiative to amend the Federal Constitution, arguing that burqas are a threat to national security. But the Swiss Council of States rejected it in March 2017 on the grounds that the small number of burqa-clad women in Switzerland meant public order was not disturbed. There was also concern that a ban would have a negative impact on tourism from Gulf countries.

Though the SVP and Egerkinger Komitee have been active for decades, Switzerland’s burqa referendum can’t be explained without the broader regional context: namely, Europe’s crisis of identity in a globalized, multicultural world. Switzerland is only the latest country to express and assuage this cultural insecurity by managing the visibility of Muslims and Islam, which are perceived as a political, ideological, and national security threat to European values and civilization.

Muslims have been part of Europe’s fabric for centuries, but they continue to be misunderstood and misrepresented in media and politics, where Islam is often framed as an inherently violent religion and Muslims are portrayed as incapable of integrating into European societies. While there is certainly some cultural anxiety—the natural result of rapidly changing demographics on the continent—most of the sensationalism is constructed, encouraged, and egged on by political parties that have a vested interest in creating a supposed “Muslim problem.” The purveyors of these ideas seek to convince the broad populace that Islam is a religion inherently at odds with Western values and that Muslims must be tamed and domesticated. Right now, they are winning.

In Switzerland, demonizing Islam, Muslims, and immigrants as hostile to human rights and freedom—of expression, religion, and sexual orientation—has long been a pillar of the SVP’s electoral strategy, as well as that of other populist national conservative parties such as the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland and the Ticino League. Because this fixation has contributed to countless electoral victories for the SVP—transforming it into one of the most powerful parties in the country—others have adopted its strategy.

Secretive Switzerland-China immigration deal fuels concern

Legitimate worries. Hopefully no equivalent with Canadian government:

Switzerland gave Chinese security agents free run inside its borders and the rest of Europe for five years as part of a secretive immigration agreement between the two countries, according to human rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders.

While the agreement officially expired this week, Safeguard Defenders warned that it was up for renewal in a report released on Thursday.

The deal allows Chinese officials to visit Switzerland for up to two weeks to interview and remove nationals who have been found to be residing illegally in the European country and take them back to China.

While Switzerland maintains similar agreements with immigration authorities from 52 other countries and territories, including Hong Kong and Macau, its deal with China is unique in that it grants powers to China’s Ministry of Public Security as opposed to immigration officials, according to Safeguard Defenders.

These officials are allowed access to investigate “irregular immigration” as opposed to “illegal immigration” as detailed in agreements with the countries, the organisation said.

“In China, the Ministry of Public Security is the paramount structure of power second only to the Communist Party itself, and it is through the MPS that the Party wields its authority over perceived threats,” said Michael Caster, senior adviser at Safeguard Defenders.

“The real question is why would Switzerland agree to any bilateral partnership with a state agency known for widespread and systematic human rights abuses, including torture, especially when that partnership is about the surveillance, custody, and repatriation of individuals at risk of abuse,” he said.

The deal was signed in 2015 but was not made public, so even Swiss parliamentarians on the country’s Foreign Affairs Committee were unaware of it, according to Swiss news outlet ZZ am Sonntag, which first broke the story in August.

MPs were reportedly not notified because the agreement was considered an “administrative” matter, the newspaper said.

The text of the document is also not available online. The Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) offers a link to the agreement on its government website, but clicking on the link reveals that no document has been uploaded.

The SEM acknowledged the existence of the agreement to Al Jazeera in a response to written questions, and said it was neither unlisted nor confidential. “The full text has always been transmitted upon request,” spokesman Lukas Rieder said.

Rieder said Swiss migration authorities decide, together with the cantons, which people will be presented to any visiting delegation, and then organise the mission.

The duration of the stay depends on the number of interviews, which take place at the offices of the SEM, and the visiting delegation has no influence over the amount of time they spend in Switzerland, it said.

“Chinese authorities do not receive any information on persons at risk or persecuted,” Rieder said, stressing that the only information provided was for identification purposes. “No sensitive data or information is provided which could endanger the persons concerned” or their relatives.

He added that while a continuation of the agreement was “in Switzerland’s interest” there was “no urgency” for the renewal.

Operation Fox Hunt

ZZ am Sonntag earlier reported that while the arrangement had not been used to deport Uighurs or Tibetans, others might have fallen victim to it.

On the one known occasion that the agreement was activated in 2016, Chinese agents visited Switzerland to remove 13 people, among them four asylum seekers, the newspaper said.

Caster said the agreement could also have been used to conduct influence campaigns in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe, as the Schengen system allows the security agents unrestricted access across much of the continent.

While Safeguard Defenders said it did not find specific evidence in this case, China had been known to perform similar operations outside its borders, including forcefully repatriating and harassing its own citizens.

Known as Operation Fox Hunt or Operation Sky Net, the campaign has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has led an anti-corruption drive across China since he took office in 2012.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said the operation has brought nearly 6,000 people back to China since 2014, including 1,425 members of the Communist Party.

Some of the most prominent cases include Xiao Jianhua, a Chinese-Canadian billionaire abducted from his Hong Kong hotel room in 2017, and Gui Minhai, a Chinese-Swedish bookseller who was taken from Thailand in 2015. Former Interpol chief Meng Hongwei was picked up when he made a trip back to China from France in 2018.

Security agents have also harassed Chinese citizens and dissidents living abroad. In October, the US Justice Department indicted eight Chinese nationals with charges including stalking and coercion of Chinese abroad to encourage them to return to China.

“We have clearly seen the lengths Chinese security officials have gone to abduct Chinese citizens from other sovereign nations or wage sophisticated surveillance or influence campaigns and where there is a loophole we can be certain that agents of the Chinese state will have sought ways to exploit it,” Caster said.

“As long as secret agreements, like this one with the Swiss Government, allow unfettered access to Chinese security agents, we can never rule out a greater extent of abuse.”

Source: Secretive Switzerland-China immigration deal fuels concern

Swiss researchers gear up for crunch immigration vote, fearing return to scientific exile

Of note:

Swiss voters go to the polls in a month to decide whether to cap free movement of citizens from the EU, in a referendum seen as a crunch test of the country’s ties with the 27-member bloc.

The vote, were it to succeed, would violate bilateral accords that enhance Swiss access to the EU’s single market, and directly threaten researchers access to the next science programme, Horizon Europe.

“I’m a bit worried about the vote,” said Gian-Luca Bona, CEO of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. “This is extremely important for our economy. The special circumstances of COVID-19 mean there are many irrational things happening. There are a lot of emotions around at the moment.”

Bona leads a lab of 1,000 scientists, made up of 60 different nationalities. He fears a repeat of 2014, when a slim majority of Swiss voters backed a similar motion that sought to restore limits on immigration. The EU responded by cutting off full Swiss membership to Horizon 2020, the current research programme. What followed was an almost three-year scramble for Switzerland to regain full access.

Now, in what is essentially a repeat of the 2014 vote, Bona fears the country could be thrust back into scientific exile.

“Infections are growing slowly but steadily,” he said. “The real impact on the economy from COVID-19 could start to show this fall; a second wave could aggravate things. We could see chapter 11-style closures of businesses.”

“The discussion that could follow, around prioritising the Swiss citizens, is the dangerous part in this referendum. I hope rational thinking determines what we do next.”

While not unusual for Switzerland, where plebiscites on specific questions are common, for Brussels, the vote raises the prospect of yet another embarrassing national referendum on the EU.

The threat of being blocked from the full €94.1 billion Horizon programme, which starts next year, is a source of major disquiet for Swiss academics.

After the 2014 experience, they’re fully alive to the danger. On Thursday, a collection of top scientific organisations, including the ETH Board, the Swiss National Science Foundation and Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency, jointly called for voters to reject the proposal.

“It’s rather open for me, what’s going to happen in this vote,” said Tilman Esslinger, who leads the quantum optics group at ETH Zurich.

“There’s a very special set of circumstances – coronavirus, severe economic challenges. This can amplify in one or the other direction. The world has changed. People probably don’t even know themselves yet how they’ll vote. People have other things on their mind now, like how they will get their kids back into schools safely. They might not be thinking of politics,” Esslinger said.

Political analysts, however, say the initiative faces many obstacles.

“Plenty of things are now running against it. Because of coronavirus, it doesn’t have the monopoly of attention or debate,” says Oscar Mazzoleni, political scientist at the University of Lausanne.

The Swiss will be voting on five separate subjects on September 27, including the purchase of new military airplanes, the length of paternity leave and the right to hunt wolves and other animals.

Support for the Swiss People’s Party, which put the immigration vote on the agenda, is lower than it was six years’ ago, Mazzoleni noted.

The build-up to the vote is short, too, in comparison to the months-long campaigning seen in 2014.

The reaction to the government’s handling of coronavirus is generally positive, meaning the public may not view the upcoming vote as a weapon to punish politicians.

“They delivered the money; they supported the economy during the pandemic. And it’s too early to see the impact of the virus on the economy anyway. The real crisis is still in the future,” Mazzoleni said.

Politicians fear success for the immigration vote would wreck their hopes of putting relations with Brussels on a new footing.

Like the UK, Switzerland is in its own difficult negotiation with the EU, being asked to endorse a new treaty that would require it to routinely adopt single market rules.

The EU views this as merely updating and simplifying the Swiss arrangement, which spans a complex web of more than 120 bilateral deals. But the new treaty also includes demands that the Swiss soften rules protecting wages, the highest in Europe, from cross-border competition by EU workers on temporary assignments. Critics say the treaty infringes Swiss sovereignty.

The country’s relationship with the EU is the “hidden dimension” of the immigration vote, Mazzoleni said

“We’re in a no-man’s land, from a diplomatic point of view, with the EU right now. Brussels is much more focused on the UK. So the future relationship is not part of the referendum debate at the moment,” he said.

More support for immigration

For Nenad Stojanović, professor of political science at the University of Geneva, “The chances are quite high that the initiative will not be accepted. Many people outside Switzerland, who don’t fully understand our tradition of direct democracy, simply presume that people would accept something like this. In the Swiss context, this claim is not supported by the facts,” he said.

There have been seven similar popular initiatives to curb immigration since 1970, said Stojanović. “With one exception, the 2014 vote, the others failed. And this was during all kinds of periods, good economies and bad,” he said.

If anything, Stojanović expects the experience of coronavirus will have strengthened peoples’ perception of foreigners, who account for almost a quarter of the Swiss population.

“The pandemic has shown that without foreign workers, the whole health system would have collapsed,” he said.

Source: Swiss researchers gear up for crunch immigration vote, fearing return to scientific exile

Price watchdog criticises cost of becoming Swiss – SWI swissinfo.ch

Some of the highest fees in Europe:

Naturalisation fees vary among Switzerland’s 26 cantons. This has caught the eye of the federal price watchdog, who doubts that the fees fall within the legal framework.

The law on Swiss citizenshipexternal link stipulates that “the fees may not amount to more than is required to cover costs”. But for price watchdog Stefan Meierhans this is “more than questionable”, as he writes in his newsletterexternal link on Thursday.

He says one reason for his doubts are the great differences between cantons. These are “far too large and are not comprehensible against the background of the cost recovery principle”. The result is a “great inequality in treatment of people seeking naturalisation”.

What is a justified price for naturalisation? Meierhans considers a cantonal and municipal fee of a maximum of CHF1,500 ($1,540) per adult to be fair. He adds that it should be possible to increase the fee moderately for an “extraordinarily high amount of work”.

Most cantons charge around this figure, but a survey by the price watchdog shows there’s a wide range, with the process costing from CHF200 to CHF2,200. In 19 cantons the average is not more than CHF1,000. In several cantons, however, naturalisation can be considerably more expensive, with fees of up to CHF4,000 being possible.

Source: Price watchdog criticises cost of becoming Swiss – SWI swissinfo.ch

Switzerland: Immigrants who naturalize outearn their peers

Interesting study from Switzerland that likely reflects in part the particularities of the Swiss immigrant population and the citizenship acquisition process. Makes the case for more facilitative approaches to granting citizenship:

The moment when an immigrant becomes a citizen of his adopted country looks remarkably similar in ceremonies around the world: a hand raised, an oath taken, a flag waved, and a celebration with family and friends. But the road leading to that moment differs widely by country. Some are long and steep and others more walkable, depending on the country’s policies.

Behind this divergence is a kind of chicken-and-egg problem. Is citizenship a prize, something to be won only after considerable striving? Then it should be surrounded by hurdles, like requirements that you’ve mastered the language, lived in the country a long time, and achieved a certain level of economic success. Or is citizenship an invitation to build a future in the country, something that helps immigrants succeed? Then it should be easier to get.

Which side has the better of the argument? A new study from the Immigration Policy Lab at ETH Zurich and Stanford University (IPL) sheds light on the importance of citizenship in immigrants’ trajectories. Looking at more than thirty years of data on thousands of immigrants in Switzerland, IPL researchers found that those who had naturalized earned more money each year than those who hadn’t—and the boost in income was largest for people facing the greatest disadvantages in the labor market.

A Puzzle for Researchers

Considering the benefits usually reserved for citizens, it’s easy to imagine how naturalizing early on could equip immigrants to prosper: access to advantageous jobs, eligibility for scholarships to get education and training, and the assurance that they can stay in the country indefinitely and invest in the future.

But it’s hard to prove that citizenship actually delivers on this promise, because those who get citizenship and those who don’t aren’t similar enough to allow for meaningful comparison. People who jump the hurdles to apply for citizenship differ in many ways from those who hold back, and successful applicants differ from unsuccessful ones. If naturalized immigrants do better in the long run, this could be due to any number of factors—factors that, like work ethic or resources, also account for their ability to successfully navigate the citizenship application process.

“To accurately assess the benefits of citizenship it is essential to compare naturalized and non-naturalized immigrants that are similar in all characteristics but for their passport”, said Dalston Ward, a postdoctoral researcher at ETH Zurich.

This is where Switzerland is a boon to social scientists. Between 1970 and 2003, some Swiss towns put citizenship applications to a . To become a Swiss citizen, an immigrant would have to receive more “yes” than “no” votes. For applicants who won or lost by only a handful of votes, the decision may as well have been pure chance, enabling an apples-to apples comparison. Combine that with decades of records from the Swiss pension system showing annual earnings, and you have a trustworthy way to determine whether or not citizenship actually improves immigrants’ fortunes.

Long-Term Benefits

After identifying those who narrowly won or lost their bid for citizenship, the researchers looked back at the five years leading up to the vote that would divide them. There, they had similar incomes. But after the vote, the new citizens went on to earn more money than those who remained in permanent residency status, and the earnings gap increased as time went on. At first, they earned an average of about 3,000 Swiss francs more (roughly the same in U.S. dollars), and that increased to almost 8,000 a decade later. In any given year after the vote awarded them citizenship, these immigrants earned an average of 5,637 more than their peers.

“In sum, these findings provide causal evidence that citizenship is an important catalyst for economic integration, which benefits both immigrants and host communities”, said Jens Hainmueller, a professor of political science at Stanford University.

If citizenship was the wedge between the two groups, how exactly did it lift one above the other? The most likely explanation, the researchers thought, was that it counteracted the discrimination that colors immigrants’ lives in the job market. When immigrants apply for jobs in Switzerland, their citizenship status is almost as visible as hair color or height, and individual employers can use it to filter candidates. Immigrants who haven’t become citizens may be seen as less skilled or less likely to remain in the country. On the other hand, because it is relatively difficult to gain citizenship in Switzerland, it may act as a kind of credential.

A closer look at the data bears this out. Citizenship made the greatest difference for immigrants facing obstacles—those likely to be discriminated against for their religion or country of origin, or those in low-wage occupations. When the researchers focused on immigrants from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia, who were often refugees and potentially targets of anti-Muslim sentiment, they found an average yearly earnings gain of 10,721—roughly double that of the new citizens as a whole.

According to Dominik Hangartner, a professor of public policy at ETH Zurich, “the finding that the benefits are disproportionally larger for poorer and more marginalized immigrants speaks to the important role that citizenship policies can play in facilitating more equal access to employment opportunities for immigrants.”

While income is only one element of an immigrant’s life, the persistence of the earnings gap revealed in this study raises an important question about the public purpose of citizenship. We tend to think of citizenship as a private issue, personally meaningful to the but not necessarily something society or state should invest in.

But if citizenship can counter discrimination, boost social mobility, and act as a stepping stone toward deeper integration, then its benefits reach beyond immigrants themselves. That means that we all have a stake in the debate over whether to obstruct or ease access to . At a time when cities, states, and countries around the world are reconsidering their welcome to immigrants, it’s all the more important to have solid evidence about the contributions newcomers can make—and the policies that best encourage them.

Source: Immigrants who naturalize outearn their peers