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 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 17:40 GMT
Immigrants face Swiss curbs
Immigrants arrive at an airport
Swiss voters rejected moves to stop immigration

There is controversy in Switzerland over how far the authorities are allowed to restrict the movements of asylum-seekers.

Plans by some smaller Swiss towns to ban asylum-seekers from public parks and sports facilities have met with a storm of criticism and have been watered down.

But major Swiss cities already have well-developed regulations which stop asylum-seekers from entering urban centres.

Kurdish asylum-seekers arriving in Europe
Many refugees head for Switzerland overland
When the town of Meilen announced plans to forbid asylum-seekers from using parks, school playgrounds and even public swimming pools, there was an outcry among some Swiss but approval from others.

Although authorities in Meilen have now backed down on a complete ban, asylum-seekers in the town have been warned not to gather in groups in public places.

The restrictions on movement are not unique to Meilen.

Police in major cities such as Berne and Zurich regularly issue banning orders on asylum-seekers they suspect of drug-dealing, preventing them from entering the city centre.

Proof that a crime has been committed is not necessary, said a spokesman for Zurich police.

A banning order can be issued simply because someone appears suspicious - but only on a foreigner.

Swiss law does not allow such restrictions to be placed on Swiss citizens.

Generosity 'abused'

The increased use of legislation restricting the movements of asylum-seekers reflects the concern among many Swiss that their traditionally generous policy towards refugees is being abused.

Although statistics show that only a tiny minority of asylum-seekers do commit crime, Swiss public opinion thinks otherwise, and some sections of the population are now openly hostile to foreigners.

Only last month, voters rejected by the tiniest of margins legislation which would have effectively prevented Switzerland accepting any more asylum-seekers.

While civil-rights groups say that banning asylum-seekers from public places is a form of apartheid, opinion polls indicate that many Swiss support the policy.


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