Refugee aid group decries ‘confusion’ at Swiss border

A Swiss aid organization has criticized the situation at the Swiss-Italian border, saying many refugees are left in “confusion and uncertainty”.

Refugee aid group decries 'confusion' at Swiss border
Como station. Photo: Muszka/GoogleMaps

Miriam Behrens, director of the Swiss Refugee Council (SFH), travelled to the border at Chiasso and to the Italian city of Como on Wednesday and Thursday to assess the situation of refugees and “ensure that the rights of people looking for protection are entirely guaranteed,” she said in a statement.

Switzerland has been under fire for several weeks after turning back thousands of migrants from the Swiss border.

Any refugee has the right to claim asylum when they reach Switzerland. If they do, they should be registered with the Swiss migration office (SEM) and their application processed in due course. If they do not, because they want to transit through Switzerland and claim asylum in another country such as Germany, the terms of the Dublin agreement state they should be sent back to the first EU country they arrived in, in this case Italy.

In July alone over 3,000 people were sent back from Switzerland to Italy, news agencies said last week.

The Swiss border guards office says it is simply applying the law. However the situation has caused chaos in Como, where many refugees are now sleeping at the train station and in parks after being turned back.

Last week Amnesty International called for clarification from the Swiss after reports that children were being sent back from the border.

Now the SFH says confusion at the border is making it difficult for people to claim asylum.

“People who seek protection are not being sufficiently and correctly informed, which leads to confusion regarding exactly when they can lodge their asylum request,” it said in a statement.

“The situation is difficult for all parties concerned,” it added, saying there should be “more transparency” regarding the procedures in place and the asylum process.

It said Swiss border guards “need much more help” in terms of translators and child protection specialists in order to properly deal with those seeking to place an asylum request.

All those who wish to seek asylum in Switzerland should be put into the care of the SEM “even if there are doubts regarding their motives for seeking asylum”, it added.

While the number of people requesting asylum has gone down across the Schengen zone since last year, its member states do not have a satisfactory solution to the question of refugees in transit, it said.

Mechanisms for the redistribution of refugees were needed “to guarantee the protection of those concerned” and Switzerland should play its part in this, said the SFH.

In a statement on its website, the SEM outlined its policy – which applies to minors as well as adult refugees – and stressed that the border “is not closed”, refuting the claims made by some international media.

Switzerland respects the Dublin agreement and “cannot become a country for the transit of unregulated migration”, said the statement.

“Switzerland has long been seeking a unified European policy regarding asylum.”

“The difficult situation for those concerned at the southern border shows that clearly no single European country can meet the challenge alone – not Italy, not Germany and not Switzerland.”

Europe must find “lasting solutions” by working together, it said.


How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.