22. August 2016 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Como Report · Kategorien: Italien, Schweiz

1. General Situation

Around 500 people (exact numbers are difficult to estimate) are currently sleeping in a park in front of the train station and in the train station itself. According to Schweiz am Sonntag around 50 children are still sleeping in a church (overseen by Caritas). It is quite probable that quite some others are spending nights in other places as well. Many have been pushed back from Switzerland, where they expressed their desire to seek asylum but were not given the possibility to do so by the border guards. If people have expressed their desire to continue their journey onwards to Germany, the border guards can legally send them back to Italy as there is a readmission agreement between the two countries

Most of the people are from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. There are also people from elsewhere, we spoke to several Gambians, for example.

The situation in Como is relatively calm. The police do not disturb the people as long as there aren’t any problems. Up till now the city of Como is tolerating the situation. However, according to local activists they are set to start building containers on the other side of the city in order to move the people away from the park. In reaction to this announcement, there were a couple of assemblies where the people in the park wrote an open letter to the municipality and expressed their concerns over these plans.
In terms of Swiss media coverage there have mostly been reports which focus on child rights abuses as well as many that have wrongly reported on the border authorities undertaking a ‘strict’ application of Dublin. The push backs have in fact little to do with Dublin. It seems rather that there has been a change in practice from the border guards, who could be applying quotas to the number of people able to apply for asylum per day. They are also perhaps pushing back people who on their first crossing into Switzerland claimed not to want to apply for asylum. The Ticino chief of police, Norman Gobbi claims that “only credible asylum seekers will be let in”.1 As a reminder, to establish the validity of an asylum claim, as well as the age of an asylum seeker, is not the competency of the border forcers, but that of the SEM.

2. What has caused the situation

There are different theories as to the reasons why people have become stuck in Como. With the border crossing from Italy to France (Ventimiglia) having been rendered mostly impassable, people find themselves with few possibilities to go north. As a result, people are able to cross in fewer and fewer spots, Como being one of them.
Since about one month, the operational forces of the border corps have doubled in Ticino and Valais. All trains between Italy and Switzerland are now being controlled.2

Further, this summer, there are more people trying to cross into or through Switzerland. Whether or not border patrols did react to an actual increase in attempts at crossing or whether it is mere political calculation, remains as of yet unclear.

According to L. (and some other activists) it looks like the border guards introduced (an unofficial and illegal) daily quota of people who are allowed to ask for asylum. Everyone else is turned back, often without either their names nor their fingerprints being taken. Thus, the border guards are committing illegal pushbacks. It is not in their authority to assess whether or not someone’s asylum application is believable (or whether they actually want to go to Germany, as it is often claimed in the media). If turned back, the asylum seekers are often kept for multiple hours at the police station and then just handed over to the Italian police (by bus). The Italian police then hands them a piece of paper, where it is written that they have been deported back to Italy under an agreement between Switzerland and Italy dating from 2000. This step is called “vereinfachte Rückführung”. They are being given this paper without being checked whether or not they were registered in Italy before.

The people then return to the park and try again later. Some people have already tried over seven times already. We cannot support the reporting that all the people simply want to go to Germany. Almost everyone we spoke to said that they want to go to Switzerland. Many also report that they clearly stated that they want to claim asylum – some even have pieces of paper on which it is written that they want to claim asylum – and still they are being rejected.

3. Institutional and organisational responses

Last week, Amnesty was there. They want to publish a report about the situation, concentrating on the situation of unaccompanied minors. Moreover, the UNHCR might make a report as well. Last Friday, a group of SP-MEP visited the site. They promised to pressure Bern into doing something. Some local representatives want to build up pressure within the parliament of Ticino.

To us, the situation seems to be becoming quite permanent. The Border guards seem determined to ‘deter’ people and ‘keep up order’. The situation might stay like it is for a while.

4. Aktivis*tinnen vor Ort

NGO/Charities:

  • Caritas Como: hands out 1 meal every evening, placement for unaccompanied minors, medical support, cloths
  • Verein Firdaus: hands out 1 meal every lunch (until the end of this week, then it wants Como to take over), they also support unaccompanied minors and especially vulnerable refugees with relatives in Switzerland. They document how the people are related to people already in Switzerland. With this information, they try – and often succeed – to convince the border guards to accept certain people.

Activists: There are different groups of Italian activist. A mostly local group called Abattere la frontiera is quite active. They organise daily assemblies together with the migrants. In these assemblies which take place in the evening with the people from the park, they have written a letter to the authorities against the building of the containers and a list of their demands. It can be found on their fb page.

There are also smugglers who take money and just drop the people off somewhere very close to the actual crossing.

This weekend, there were also some lawyers from ASCI (Italian legal aid) who answered some general questions on Dublin and Asylum.

5. Our Leaflet

We wrote a leaflet about the situation in Switzerland, which we translated into different languages (English, Arabic, Italian, French, Farsi and Trigrinya). The leaflet was very much appreciated and now – we have heard – there is even a daily info stall done by the Italian activists which features our leaflet.

There are not many Swiss activists around. Therefore, there is quite the lack of specific knowledge about (asylum in) Switzerland. Many people did not think that there were many ways into Switzerland. We have only heard of a few people who tried to walk and most of them took roads way to close to Chiasso. Also the police is said to control all train stations up to Bellinzona.

6. Possibilities to Intervene

About the possibilities of further interventions, there would be much to do. However, we think that bringing cloths or cooking is not very important. These structures are being taken care of by local charities. We see the following possibilities (not an exhaustive list):

1. Legal information: Many people are way too badly informed. The border guards can still send some people back simply because they do not even ask for asylum but think this is obvious.
a. Also it would be the possibility of preparing people specifically for an asylum procedure in Switzerland, , or how to give a coherent account of what happened, the importance of no contradictions, etc.
b. Further, many legal question are still open: How can they reject so many people? What is the quota? Under what authority are people being returned?

2. Activism in Como
a. Accompanying people to the border to make sure they can ask for asylum. A journalist told us that she was able to do this.
b. Observing the situation in Chiasso and at the other border crossing to prevent abuse and document what is going on.

3. Media work. WOZ was there. Other media are also interested. We could scandalise the situation through well documented cases.

4. Networks in Ticino: organising with our comrades in Ticino.

5. Supporting and sharing the results of the migrant assemblies and the media they produce themselves (yallacomo.site123.me, should have content on it soon). Also the No border Radio broadcasts from time to time from Como (noborderradio.com/)

Overall, we think that the situation is interesting because

a) it is happening right at the border of Switzerland,
b) it constitutes a quite drastic shift within the Swiss approach towards its borders
c) it is a possibility to connect with activists from Ticino and
d) it constitutes a possibility to use local knowledge in order to advance freedom of movement of those who are stuck.

Zurich, 14. August 2016
This report was written and compiled by two activists affiliated to the Welcome to Europe network

Notes

[1] „nur noch glaubwürdige Asylgesuchsteller“, Sonntagszeitung.ch
[2] So far it is unclear if they control all other borders as well. However, the military is controlling some green borders.

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