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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October, 2003, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
UN condemns Swiss asylum rhetoric
SVP leader Christoph Blocher with campaign poster showing Switzerland as a chicken at the mercy of the political elite
The party is known for its striking campaign posters
The United Nations refugee agency has strongly condemned a right-wing Swiss party for an election campaign in which it appears to blame the country's rising crime rate on asylum seekers.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said publicity by the People's Party (SVP) was among the most blatantly anti-asylum seen in Europe.

A recent newspaper advertising campaign said left-wing policies had left the country with, among other things, "a brutal Albanian mafia" and "black African" domination of drug crime.

The SVP, which has seen a surge of support in recent years, is expected to win around 25% of the vote and overtake the centre-left Social Democrats as Switzerland's largest party in Sunday's elections.

It is seeking to increase its representation in the country's seven-member power-sharing cabinet, where it currently has one seat.

'Manipulation'

The advertisement suggested that foreigners had played a major part in the surge in violent crime in recent years.

To cast asylum seekers and refugees in as ugly a light as possible in support of a fixed political agenda is a disturbing phenomenon wherever it happens
Ron Redmond
UNHCR
"Instead of severely punishing stubborn, criminal asylum-seekers, we give them apartments, jobs and welfare," it said.

But Mr Redmond said the party, led by industrialist Christoph Blocher, was distorting facts in its campaign, which includes full-page ads in major dailies and posters in the cities of Geneva and Lausanne.

"The politicisation of the asylum issue, and rampant manipulation of facts and statistics... to cast asylum seekers and refugees in as ugly a light as possible in support of a fixed political agenda is a disturbing phenomenon wherever it happens," he said.

"Recently in many industrialised countries it's happening all too often," he added.

The agency spokesman said some European politicians were deliberately using the term "asylum seeker" alongside words such as "terrorist", "criminal", "rape", "disease", "fraud" and "bogus" during campaigning.

Election gains

Correspondents say that while the agency has frequently criticised similar phenomena elsewhere in Europe, these remarks are unusually strong and indicate a growing concern.

Meanwhile SVP General Secretary Gregor Rutz described Mr Redmond's comments as "absolutely scandalous" and an interference in Swiss politics.

The SVP, originally a relatively small party based in eastern Switzerland, has held a single seat in Switzerland's cabinet since a power-sharing deal was agreed in 1959.

The Social Democrats, along with the centrist Free Democrats and centre-right Christian Democrats, have two seats each.

But support for the SVP has grown in recent years because of its anti-immigrant stance.

It received 22.5% of the vote in elections in 1999 and should make further gains on Sunday.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Imogen Foulkes
"The opinion polls put the People's Party in the lead"



SEE ALSO:
Race row ignites Swiss election
16 Sep 03  |  Europe
Immigrants face Swiss curbs
19 Dec 02  |  Europe
Swiss reject tougher asylum laws
24 Nov 02  |  Europe
Country profile: Switzerland
23 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Switzerland
21 May 03  |  Country profiles
Switzerland's Mr No
24 Oct 99  |  Europe


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