Most migrants arriving from Switzerland travel by train | Photo: Imago Images
Most migrants arriving from Switzerland travel by train | Photo: Imago Images

Germany and Switzerland have agreed to strengthen police controls to prevent migrants from crossing their common border. The move follows claims that Swiss authorities have been helping irregular migrants to reach Germany and France.

Germany and Switzerland have become the latest European countries to announce measures aimed at stopping the flow of migrants and asylum seekers across their borders. After a meeting in Berlin on Tuesday, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said an action plan initially agreed in 2016 would be expanded in a renewed effort to tackle irregular migration.

"Migration issues are not solved on a national level, but on a European level," Faeser said at a joint press conference.

Among other things, the plan calls for joint police patrols to be deployed on trains traveling from Switzerland to Germany. It follows media reports that Swiss authorities have been allowing migrants to travel from Austria through Switzerland to Basel, from where they can travel on to Germany or France.

The tweet says: "Switzerland allows thousands of migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, to travel to Germany without paying them any attention. Following harsh criticism in the "Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag" (Swiss newspaper, ed. note) from our neighboring country, Berlin and Bern plan to tackle illegal migration together."

Switzerland 'waved through' migrants

Since the start of 2022, over 17,000 migrants have crossed into eastern Switzerland from Austria, according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ). While the newspaper claims their entry into Switzerland was "illegal", the Swiss authorities have stated that they do not stop the migrants at the border. "We formally allow the onward journey," Florian Schneider of the St. Gallen Canton police told the NZZ on Sunday.

Similar reports by Swiss television channel SRF that police and rail authorities have been enabling irregular journeys by migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, Tunisia and Morocco, have caused alarm among Switzerland’s neighbors, especially Germany.

SRF video footage filmed in secret shows a Swiss border official accompanying a group of migrants arriving on a night train from Austria. A migrant explains that they were asked by police in Zurich: 'Who’s going to France and Germany?'. Everyone wanted to go there, he continues. "So they said, 'This train is going to Basel, the border with France and Germany'."

An internal document headed "Dealing with migrants in the train," issued by the Swiss rail company SBB and accessed by SRF, explains the procedure: migrants are escorted off the train at the Austrian-Swiss border, checked and fitted with wrist bands. SBB customer service personnel then direct the migrants to a special carriage at the rear of the train where they will not disturb other passengers during the onward journey.

SBB has defended its actions, saying it has an obligation to transport people. But a migration law expert, Sarah Progin-Theuerkauf, from the University of Fribourg, told SRF that by failing to send migrants back to Austria, Switzerland is violating the Dublin agreement, a system intended to prevent asylum seekers from traveling within the EU. The conservative CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag also claims that Switzerland is allowing illegal entry into Germany and is not fulfilling its obligations as a member of the Schengen area, the NZZ reports.

Also read: Switzerland accused of helping migrants reach other European countries

Germany and Switzerland have vowed to increase border controls to stop migrants crossing | Photo: picture alliance
Germany and Switzerland have vowed to increase border controls to stop migrants crossing | Photo: picture alliance

Accelerated procedures, faster returns

Germany and Switzerland hope the action plan agreed in Berlin will lead to fewer irregular migrants on both sides of the border. Since September, the number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany via the Balkan route has increased, said Faeser – also at the Swiss border crossings. On peak days, around 1,000 migrants entered Germany via Switzerland.

Meanwhile many of those who enter Switzerland are not entitled to asylum, according to Keller-Sutter, who would like to see these migrants deported as quickly as possible. "We want to prevent people without a need for protection from overburdening our asylum systems," she said. In practice, this means that asylum seekers from countries with low refugee recognition rates – specifically those from North Africa – are to have their procedure fast-tracked.

As to those who enter Switzerland without documents and do not claim asylum there – it seems there will no longer be any "waving through". The action plan, which takes effect immediately, warns that they will be stopped, security checked and then swiftly sent back.

Read more: Switzerland urged to stop transfers of vulnerable asylum seekers to Italy


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