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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 September 2007, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Swiss citizenship system 'racist'
By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

Swiss fans of tennis star Roger Federer
Switzerland makes it very difficult for foreigners to become Swiss
An official report into the process of naturalisation in Switzerland says the current system is discriminatory and in many respects racist.

The report, from Switzerland's Federal Commission on Racial Discrimination, recommends far-reaching changes.

It criticises the practice of allowing members of a community to vote on an individual's citizenship application.

Muslims and people from the Balkans and Africa are the most likely to be rejected, the report points out.

Switzerland has Europe's toughest naturalisation laws. Foreigners must live for 12 years in a Swiss community before they can apply, and being born in Switzerland brings no right to citizenship.

Under the current system, foreigners apply through their local town or village.

They appear before a citizenship committee and answer questions about their desire to be Swiss. After that, they must often be approved by the entire voting community, in a secret ballot, or a show of hands. This practice, the report says, is particularly likely to be distorted by racial discrimination.

It cites the case of a disabled man originally from Kosovo. Although fulfilling all the legal criteria, his application for citizenship was rejected by his community on the grounds that his disability made him a burden on taxpayers, and that he was Muslim.

The report recommends that decisions on citizenship should be decided by an elected executive and not by the community as a whole. But such a move is likely to encounter stiff opposition.

Foreigners are a key issue in the run-up to Switzerland's general election next month.

The right-wing Swiss People's Party, currently leading in the opinion polls, claims Swiss communities have a democratic right to decide who can or cannot be Swiss.

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