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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 September 2006, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Swiss back tighter asylum rules
Illegal immigrants queuing
Asylum seekers will be expected to produce ID within 48 hours
Voters in Switzerland have backed tougher laws on asylum-seekers.

In a national referendum, some 67.8% of voters supported the new measures, which the government says are needed to combat abuse of the asylum system.

The new laws cut welfare payments to those whose applications are rejected, and restrict applications from those unable to produce identity documents.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, described the referendum result as regrettable.

The vote gives Switzerland some of the strictest asylum and immigration laws in Europe.

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher says they will prevent abuse while protecting real refugees.

Ahead of the vote, he said the aim of the reforms was "to uphold Switzerland's humanitarian tradition while at the same time halting abuses".

'Small problem'

But the UNHCR has expressed concern about a requirement for asylum seekers to produce valid identity papers within 48 hours. Many genuine refugees have been deprived of their passports by the very persecutors they are fleeing, it says.

And Swiss church groups say they are determined to ensure that no-one ends up on the streets because of the cut in welfare payments to rejected asylum seekers.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes, in Geneva, says the strong support for the laws is a reflection of a feeling among many Swiss that their traditionally generous treatment of refugees should not be abused.

But she adds that many refugee groups fear these measures are far too harsh an answer to a problem which is actually rather small.

About 10,000 people applied for asylum in Switzerland last year, a sharp drop from previous years.

The measures have already been passed by both parliament and the government, but opponents raised enough signatures to force a national vote.

The laws were supported by a majority of those voting in all of Switzerland's 26 cantons.

Why some Swiss want to toughen asylum laws

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