Geneva, Switzerland: Amnesty International reported on Wednesday that minors and adults in Swiss asylum centers had been subjected to significant abuse by security personnel, including beatings and chokeholds.
The Swiss chapter of the rights organization revealed “alarming abuse” at the country’s federal asylum centers in a study, calling for immediate government action to address the issue.
The study details a number of misdeeds committed by employees of the private security firms Securitas and Protects, who were hired by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).
Between January 2020 and April 2021, Amnesty met with 14 asylum seekers, including two kids, who claimed to have been abused by security personnel, as well as 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.
The asylum seekers claimed they were beaten and physically constrained to the point of being unable to breathe or passing out.
Some people said they had problems breathing after being pepper-sprayed and locked in a metal container in subzero temperatures.
Six of the claimed victims had to be hospitalized, according to the investigation, and two stated they were denied medical help they had requested.
“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment, and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice, and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.
She claimed that such sentiments seemed to target those of North African descent in particular.
According to Amnesty International, some of the abuse cases “may amount to torture” and thus breach Switzerland’s international commitments.
In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centers.
It made it clear that “disproportionate restraint” of asylum seekers would not be tolerated, and it promised to “sanction all improper actions.”
Giraudel applauded the SEM’s recent announcement that it would launch an external investigation into isolated complaints of abuse.
She stressed, though, that the situation was concerning and that the government needed to stop viewing complaints of abuse as the product of “a few bad apples.”
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF NPR