Mar 2, 2001

report: "Emergency aid: A means of coercion"

A campaign launched in early February criticizes Switzerland's emergency aid regime for rejected asylum-seekers as inhuman and violating the basic rights of those concerned. The constitutional right to assistance in emergency situations has become an instrument of migration policy.

„Emergency aid is no aid at all,“ says Ahmed (Name changed). The young Palestinian knows what he's saying. His asylum request was rejected and he ended up in the emergency aid regime. In Basel, where Ahmed has been living for several years, recipients of emergency aid get 12 Swiss Francs daily. They may sleep in a homeless shelter, which is being closed at daytime. Weekly, Ahmed has to report at the aliens' police. “Every time I went there I feared being arrested and ending up in deportation custody again,” he says. For about a year, he hasn't been reporting any more: “If you're afraid the whole time, at some point it's enough. You'll prefer not to get the money in order to be let alone.” For Ahmed it is clear that emergency aid is just an instrument used by the authorities to pressure and “break” him.

Currently, about 5800 persons in Switzerland receive emergency aid. The aid however isn't a nice favour by the state, but a basic right guaranteed by the constitution. A 2005 ruling by Switzerland's Federal Court states that the reception of emergency aid mustn't be linked to unacceptable and troublesome conditions. Over the last few years, the cantons, which are responsible for delivering the emergency aid, have been competing in aggravating the regime. According to a new report by the Swiss Refugee Council (SRC) the cantons are trying to make those affected leave the country by themselves by introducing increasingly harsh measures, thereby often violating the basic rights of recipients of emergency aid. Examples for such measures are arbitrary arrests, attendance checks and the enforcement of weekly changes of the accommodation.

SRC's Susanne Bolz says: The right to emergency aid has been abused for purposes of migration policy.” The politicization of this basic right and the intentional impoverishment of those affected have led the SRC, Amnesty International, Solidarité sans frontières and the Observatory of Asylum and Aliens' Rights to kick off a countrywide campaign to raise awareness and dispatch the reality of the emergency aid regime. According to their collective consent however, the organizations only demand a “fundamental examination of the emergency aid system” and not its abolishment.

That's a bit meagre, as the campaigns criticizes the regime strongly. Susanne Bolz, for example, says that the emergency aid system as a whole is “highly problematic, because people are being materially deprived and pushed into a system which in many cases violates their human dignity and their basic rights.” Moreno Casasola, Secretary General of Solidarité sans frontières, meanwhile calls the emergency aid regime “a plain failure” and stresses: “In our opinion, the only solution can be to immediately cancel the social assistance stop in a first step.” After that, further steps have to be considered, says Casasola.

In our latest film a recipient of emergency aid explains how he survives with 8.60 Swiss Francs per day. He mostly consumes cheap toast bread, fruit juice, milk and some fruit. “When I have to get soap or a tooth brush, less money remains for food,” says Ken (Name changed). He can't just spend his daily Migros voucher anyhow: “You need to have a plan and deny yourself some things.” For years, Ken has lived in emergency centres around Zurich. He last stayed at the “bunker” in Uster, an underground emergency accommodation. “Living here for years damages you physically and psychologically,” says Ken. Consequently, Sosf's Casasola stresses: “The emergency aid regime is sick and makes sick. And sicknesses have to be fought against.”

This report was written by one of our activists and was published in the Bernese monthly megafon.