GENEVA – Switzerland's executive branch on Wednesday announced plans to step up processing of asylum requests, building on a referendum result amid a growing backlog of African migrants trying to enter from Italy — many hoping to pass through to reach Germany.
The Federal Council set Oct. 1 for first phase of legal reforms aimed to speed up processing of asylum-seekers, after two-thirds of Swiss voters accepted the plan in a summer referendum. Federal officials will also boost monitoring of asylum-request rejections by Switzerland's largely independent regions, which could face penalties in case of violations.
Switzerland's southern region of Ticino has seen a surge of migrants in recent months from neighboring Italy.
In recent weeks, many would-be migrants into Switzerland were sent back to Italy for trying to enter without proper papers or not making formal asylum requests. Italian authorities have approved a tent camp to house an estimated 300 to 500 migrants who have camped out at the train station in Como after being returned from Switzerland.
Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, who also heads the border guards, denied last week the border guards weren't letting migrants apply for asylum. He insisted the guards were applying the law.
In July, Swiss authorities expelled 4,149 people, a figure nearly four times greater than the previous monthly high since 2014. Most were Eritreans, while many others were from Nigeria, Ethiopia and Gambia. Border guard spokesman Attila Lardori said over 60 percent had expressed a desire to pass through Switzerland to reach Germany.
Last week, German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper that German officials had counted over 1,300 illegal arrivals from Switzerland between July 1 and Aug. 19 by migrants who had first arrived in Italy.
Unlike Germany and Italy, Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, but has open borders with the bloc. Maurer's ministry said in a statement last week that arrests through Switzerland's "green border" — small roads that are not monitored tightly by border guards — have been rising, even as asylum applications in Switzerland have declined.