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Switzerland

Geneva To “Delinquent” Asylum Seekers: Here's Cash For A (One-Way) Ticket Home

Authorities in Switzerland’s Geneva canton would love to bid adieu to the area’s non law-abiding asylum seekers. They’re now offering people a new incentive to ship off on their own accord: cash. But when does the offer go too far?

(Kuster & Wildhaber Photography)
(Kuster & Wildhaber Photography)
Mirko Plüss

GENEVA - The region around Geneva is experimenting with a new approach to the problem of so-called delinquent asylum seekers: money for a one-way ticket home. Under a pilot project, authorities are offering asylum seekers who've run afoul of the law the cash needed to help pay for their trip home – presuming they decide to go voluntarily.

Renata Gäumann, a migration expert and coordinator of the Basel-Stadt canton asylum and refugee office, defends the principle – even where delinquent asylum seekers are involved. "An incentive system can be very effective when sanctions don't work anymore," she says. The proper balance must be maintained, however, between asylum seekers leaving the country on the one hand and the application of existing laws on the other.

What concerns Gäumann specifically is where to draw the line with criminal asylum seekers. "Up to what level of criminality do they get financial support for the trip home? At what level does the help stop?" In everyday situations, deciding that could be very delicate, she says.

In addition, Gäumann adds, there is the danger of a "pull effect," meaning the measure could actually lead to an increased number of asylum applications. Therefore, the expert says, it is crucial that this newly introduced financial support stay within bounds and not exceed existing repatriation financing arrangements.

Cheaper than a pricey plane flight

Many questions would need to be cleared up before the practice could be introduced by the federal government and hence practiced by all the cantons, Gäumann says, pointing out that in recent years there had been a certain lack of clarity on the part of the Federal Office for Migration (BfM) as regards the issue of criminality and financial help to leave the country.

The BfM, however, rejects this and refers back to existing laws which state that delinquent asylum seekers are expressly excluded from receiving such financial aid. Press speaker Michael Glauser stressed, however, that the BfM was very interested in the voluntary return home of asylum seekers. "If you add it up, giving asylum seekers money to help pay for the trip home costs Switzerland less than if we have to organize special flights that cost several thousand francs per person," he said.

Glauser added that very positive experiences were had last year with the system. "Since the Arab Spring, 350 Tunisians volunteered to return to Tunisia. And they are the best ambassadors to make the case for not seeking asylum in Switzerland – they relativize the image Switzerland has of being the land of milk and honey," he said.

Glauser did not wish to comment on the Geneva pilot project. "The canton is responsible for the project, although of course we are observing it." The BfM's priority right now, he added, were the bilateral talks with Algeria. Switzerland has had an agreement with regard to the repatriation of asylum seekers with Algeria since 2006, and talks are presently on-going about an implementation protocol expected to be signed soon.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Kuster & Wildhaber Photography

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