Switzerland to kick out convicted foreigners
29.11.10 @ 17:39
BRUSSELS - Swiss voters on Sunday backed a proposal to kick out automatically any foreigner convicted of crimes ranging from "abuse of social aid" to murder, in a move which is likely to put the Alpine country on a collision course with the EU and its freedom of movement rules.
Tabled by the same far-right Swiss People Party (SVP) who last year successfully campaigned for a ban on the construction of new minarets, the anti-foreigners proposal was backed by 52.9 percent of voters, while 47.1 percent were against.
Under the proposal, non-Swiss citizens found guilty of rape, acts of violence, drug trafficking, as well as "abuse of social aid" would be kicked out automatically, as opposed to current rules where convicts can be sent back to their home countries only based on an individual assessment and following a judge's ruling.
According to government statistics, some 350-400 people are expelled every year but the figure could rise more than threefold when the new law will be enacted. Over a fifth of Switzerland's 7.7 million inhabitants are foreigners.
"We want those [foreigners] who live in Switzerland to stick to the conventions and rules of the game," said SVP leader Toni Brunner. He said the vote was a resounding "No" to abuses resulting from immigration.
The new law is likely to put Bern on collision course with EU law. Despite Switzerland not being an EU member, it has signed up to freedom of movement and non-discrimination rules when it joined Europe's border-free Schengen area, in December 2008.
A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday said the bloc would "study how the decision will be implemented in Swiss legislation."
"We remain confident that the Swiss authorities will continue to respect their international commitments," she said.
The Bern governement confirmed that the result of the referendum was valid and that it would have to transpose it into a law trying to minimise any conflict with Switzerland's international obligations. The law will then have to be voted by the legislature before coming into force.
Human rights groups slammed the result, with Amnesty International saying the approval of this plan represents a ''dark day for human rights in Switzerland.''
The European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a Brussels-based umbrella organisation, said the vote is the "result of a xenophobic and discriminatory campaign launched by the populist Swiss People's Party, making dangerous amalgams between immigration and criminality."
A "second-class" category of Swiss residents will emerge, ENAR warns, which would be a "clear breach of the fundamental human rights principle of equality before the law."
The group also noted it was not clear where the limit would be set - first, second or even third or fourth generation immigrants.
Meanwhile, a proposal to impose a minimum tax on Switzerland's wealthiest citizens, which was also put for vote on Sunday, was rejected with 58.5 percent.
"The bad mood hits foreigners but not the rich," ran the headline in Der Bund of Bern. The Yes to the People's Party initiative showed that "questions of Swiss identity and culture, triggered by rapidly growing social change and migration, bother Swiss people like virtually nothing else."