Swiss abroad – Foreign nationals in Switzerland

Speech by Federal Councillor Christoph Blocher at the 84th Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Basel, 19 August 2006

Speeches, FDJP, 19.08.2006. The spoken and the written words are final; the speaker reserves the right to deviate considerably from the written text!

1. Swiss abroad

Shortly before his death, (the Swiss writer) Max Frisch revealed what it was that still linked him to this country. "My passport", he stated. At least he had a passport, one could add. For not everyone is fortunate enough to possess one. Not every government allows its citizens to venture abroad. Not everyone can afford to travel to distant lands.

Things are somewhat different for you however. This is the 84th Congress of the Swiss Abroad. You or your forebears chose to leave Switzerland at some point and yet you are still drawn to this country. And I assume it is more than merely a passport that brings you here to such an event today.

Over the course of the last several centuries, millions of Swiss have emigrated. To put it more simply, in the past there were three reasons for leaving the country: economic need, persecution and oppression, or there were grounds for taking flight.
But most were mainly in seek of new opportunities.
Over the course of the last several centuries, millions of Swiss have emigrated. To put it more simply, in the past there were three reasons for leaving the country: economic hardship, persecution and oppression, or you'd done something you shouldn't have. But most were mainly in seek of new opportunities. In the mid-eighteenth century, a certain Theodor Vögtlin from Läufelfingen (BL) put his reasons for leaving like this: "Es seye alhier nichts an Taglöhnen zu verdienen, und habe er nichts zu verlieren, weilen er von Vater und Mutter nichts zu erwartten habe" (There is nothing to be earned from day wages and he has nothing to lose for he can expect to inherit nothing from his father and mother).

Today no-one should be forced to leave Switzerland because they are unable to earn a decent living – or so one would think. And yet last year some 30,000 Swiss citizens left the country. Many of those were merely undertaking lengthy travel or studying or working for Swiss firms abroad, and the majority return within a few years.

But there are of course others who leave never to return. Pensioners who move to Spain, France or Thailand in search of warmer climes or for financial reasons.
Or farmers who want to carry on doing what they know best, but believe they can only do so abroad. At the end of 2005 there were 634,216 Swiss living abroad. Of those, 451,534 are dual citizens. Just how valuable a Swiss passport can be was brought home over the last few weeks to Swiss citizens living as dual nationals in Lebanon: They experienced a well-organised repatriation from embattled Lebanon to their homeland.

2. Foreign nationals in Switzerland

I don't need to tell you about the advantages and disadvantages of being a Swiss Abroad. You're perfectly aware of that from your own experiences. What we are more concerned with at present is how we handle foreign nationals living in Switzerland. The question of how we should deal with those who want to come to our country is not new. Every year around 95,000 people – which is roughly equivalent to the population of Winterthur – enter Switzerland. In relation to its size Switzerland absorbs many more immigrants than a lot of the classic immigration countries. Switzerland has become an immigration country.

From personal experience you know that no-one can simply decide to settle in another country. Certain rules apply even in special agreements such as the one on the free movement of persons which we have with the European Union.

It is the responsibility of any State to look after its citizens. That is why every government in this world decides when foreign nationals are entitled to a residence permit – and when not.

For the most part Switzerland has no problem with foreign nationals who properly apply for and are granted a residence permit. With a foreign population of 21.9% or 1,656,721 (figures as of April 2006) we top the table of western European states after Liechtenstein and Luxembourg!

The six largest national groups are: Italian (295,083), Serbian and Montenegrin (194,977), Portuguese (170,385), German (161,564) and Turkish (75,061). At the present time between 6 and 8 per cent of the population of Kosovo live in Switzerland. The majority of foreign nationals live in Switzerland as settled residents (C permit) or permanent residents (B permit).

Despite these high figures our country does not have ghetto-like suburbs with serious riots and racist attacks.

For that we have our economy to thank, which manages to generate employment for so many people and thus act as a motor of integration. Employment is the best means of integration. That's why it is important that the incentive to work is greater than the incentive to accept state payments.

3. The new Foreign Nationals Act

So, it is not the large numbers of foreign workers who have legitimately obtained a Swiss residence permit that are the object of this initiative:

No, it is all those who are in this country unjustifiably and illegally, with all of the consequences that this has on the Confederation, the cantons and communes. Time effort and money are wasted. The authorities, the courts, prisons, and social services are unnecessarily burdened. That should change.

In September we will be voting on a new Foreign Nationals Act. The new Act essentially defines the conditions under which non-European citizens can apply for a work permit and request family reunification. The new provisions also aim to tackle the illegal entry and illegal stay of foreign nationals.

There is one thing we have to bear in mind in all this: With the agreement on the free movement of persons with the EU, in theory some 450 million people have the right to live and work here from 1 May 2011. It is self-evident that having borders fully open to all the states in the world is out of the question. A total freedom of movement would bring down our entire social system. A responsible policy towards this country's own population looks somewhat different.

4. Humanitarian tradition

Of course, Switzerland has never granted residence permits just to those needed by our economy. We have also always taken in people who have been persecuted and fled from their own countries for fear of life and limb. Of course in the past the State didn't provide any form of support social or otherwise to these people. But they were allowed to enter the country and were sheltered by private individuals and quickly learned to help themselves. Take the example of those who sought refuge on religious grounds at the time of the Reformation, such as the Huguenots. They were hardworking people. Whole branches of industry in Switzerland can be traced back to them.

Another example: it was exactly fifty years ago that many Hungarians fled to Switzerland. Following the crushing of the Hungarian uprising by Soviet troops around 14,000 Hungarians fled to Switzerland. They met with a wave of boundless solidarity and sympathy. At the time the Federal Council placed no conditions on the admission of Hungarian refugees. In doing so, Switzerland demonstrated that it was fully capable of responding generously in crisis situations. The authorities were then able to count on the support of the population as there were no grounds to doubt the genuineness and need of the refugees.

No-one is questioning this humanitarian tradition. This humanitarian tradition continues to have the support of a large majority of the population. But in politics, we also have to deal with those cases which expressly seek to take advantage of this humanitarian tradition. If we want to protect genuine refugees, we must also tackle abuses of the system.

5. Upholding humanitarian traditions – putting a stop to abuses. The new Asylum Act

Even today, Switzerland takes in roughly 1,500 persecuted refugees each year from around the world. No-one doubts our humanitarian tradition towards refugees. That should and will remain the case.

But, ladies and gentlemen, what we have not resolved are the enormous abuses which are proliferating within our asylum system.

Over 85 per cent of all asylum-seekers are not refugees.

Many would simply like to benefit from Switzerland's high living standards. They live from social benefits and it is not uncommon for some to be involved in lucrative people smuggling operations and organised crime, particularly in the drug trade.
That is nothing less than abuse of asylum law. I can highlight the problem with an example: last year in canton Zurich of 4,250 asylum-seekers, 1,258 entered the justice system. That's a figure of almost thirty per cent!

Up until a few years ago these abuses were disputed by many politicians – and even today there are still certain circles that choose to deny or forget about this ugly truth. But these problems have to be approached in earnest if we want to uphold the refugee tradition. The number of applications waiting to be processed is also far too high. And that is where the main problem lies: The majority arrive with no valid identity papers.

This is where the new Asylum Act should come to bear. It should no longer be the case that those who conceal their identity or fail to cooperate with the authorities benefit from the system. Anyone failing to produce his identity papers within 48 hours (or credibly demonstrate why they cannot be produced), should have their application dismissed. I believe that every genuine refugee is prepared to disclose his origins and cooperate constructively. These are not unreasonable demands. And it is already the case that of the refugees recognised by Switzerland, the large majority (roughly 70 per cent) enter the country with valid papers. In future the same will still apply: those who face persecution will continue to be taken in as refugees, whether with or without papers.

6. Enabling coexistence

As Swiss Abroad you will study these new laws and regulations in detail. And rightly so. After all, you have made a new or second home for yourselves outside of Switzerland. You know what it means to leave everything behind. You have been able to benefit from the generosity of other countries. You have seized the opportunities offered to you by another country. But equally, you will understand the need for a State to control its immigration and take a stand against abuses.

Switzerland too thrives on ambitious, and diligent migrants and their children. They should have the opportunity to find success through their industriousness. That's what it's all about in a free State. And just as you, in your own personal way, have ties to Switzerland, so too should it be possible for foreign nationals in Switzerland to feel the same way. Integration has never meant self-denial.

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