Amnesty fears for child migrants at Italian border

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Migrants camp out at Milan train station. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP
12:08 CEST+02:00
Amnesty International has asked the Swiss federal government to investigate reports that child migrants arriving at the Swiss-Italian border are being prevented from joining family in Switzerland.

For the past few weeks the Italian city of Como has seen hundreds of migrants camped out by its rail station after being sent back from the Swiss border at Chiasso, in the canton of Ticino.

If refugees apply for asylum when they arrive at the Swiss border they are allowed to stay and will be registered as an asylum seeker in Switzerland.

But many don’t want to, wishing instead to travel through Switzerland and apply for asylum in another country, such as Germany.

Applying EU rules, Switzerland is sending those people back to the country they travelled from, in this case Italy.

But this strict adherence to the rules has not impressed Italy, with Como officials saying in July that the Swiss stance was turning the city into “an open-air refugee centre”.

Now the Swiss branch of Amnesty International has expressed concern after hearing reports that children were being turned back from the Swiss border.

“We are concerned about reports from minors who tell us they have been sent back to Italy from the Swiss border and therefore prevented from joining relatives in Switzerland,” the organization said in a statement obtained by The Local.

“We are asking for clarity from the Swiss authorities regarding the practice of sending back minors to Italy.”

But the Swiss authorities stressed that the rules haven’t changed, and that any migrant has the right to request asylum at the Swiss border, reported news agencies on Thursday.

Martin Reichlin of the Swiss migration office (SEM) told news agencies that any child arriving at the border to join family members in Switzerland would be taken into the care of the SEM.

Speaking to The Local on Thursday, a spokesman for Amnesty International said they were “monitoring the situation closely” but “cannot make further comments in this volatile situation”.

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Quoting figures from the Swiss border guards office, news agencies said 3,560 people were sent back from Switzerland to Italy in July alone.

Speaking to Swiss paper 24 Heures, MP Cesla Amarelle said Switzerland found itself “stuck in the middle”.

“Italy can’t welcome all the migrants that reach its coasts and Germany has specifically asked Switzerland to not become an open corridor, as Austria has done.”

However, though the situation in Como “is not Calais”, it shouldn’t be allowed to get worse and Switzerland should work with Italy to avoid that happening, she said.

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