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Just how racist is Switzerland?

Oprah, estimated to have raked in $77 million last year, has a Pretty Woman moment.

racism in Switzerland 93252669Enlarge
Campaign posters of the far-right Swiss People's Party depicting a woman wearing a burqa against a background of a Swiss flag upon which several minarets resembling missiles reading in German 'Stop - Yes to ban of minarets' are pictured on October 26, 2009 at the central station in Zurich. Switzerland's Commission Against Racism said that the anti-minaret poster campaign defamed the country's Muslim minority and could threaten public peace. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Oprah Winfrey claims to have been a victim of racism while shopping at a mall in Switzerland. Although the Swiss Tourism office was prompt in issuing an apology to Oprah, the event brings into question a trend of hostility towards foreigners in Switzerland.

The country recently voted to maintain restrictions placed on asylum seekers last June, eliminating military desertion as a reason for asylum and the ability (unique in Europe) to apply through Switzerland’s embassies.

The not-so-neutral rules add to a law first implemented in 1981, which has been periodically amended to increase limitations on foreigners seeking refuge in Switzerland. 

Some towns want to segregate asylum seekers to live in designated areas—often old military barracks—and limit their ability to leave the compounds outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They even seek to prevent asylum seekers from entering public spaces, such as pools, soccer pitches, libraries and retirement homes.

Opponents of the legislation—which passed with an overwhelming majority—deride the restrictions as unfair.

What's more, it may be overreaching.

According to human-rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch: “Under international law, Switzerland must formally justify any prohibition on free movement as the least restrictive measure necessary to protect national security, public order, or public health. In addition, any such policy may not discriminate between Swiss citizens and foreign nationals.”

The Swiss People’s Party (SPV), which supported the new measures, pushed for a constitutional referendum to ban minarets in Sweden in 2009. The referendum passed with over 50 percent voting in favor, but another attempt supported by the SPV, criticized in a report by Amnesty International, to outlaw full-face veils failed.

So where did all the anti-immigrant sentiment arise from?

Switzerland experienced a rise in refugees during the Kosovo conflict in 1999, but declined during the proceeding decade. The number of asylum seeker dropped precipitously this year, after rising sharply the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Many Swiss fear a coming influx of immigrants, particularly from the Muslim world, for economic reasons, and also harbor widespread anti-Muslim feelings. The SVP has been adept at playing off a mix of religious tensions and xenophobia.

Switzerland’s Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that town councils voting to decide on granting individuals citizenship was unconstitutional. A failed referendum in 2008, initiated by the SVP, attempted to make the votes legal again.

Naturalization laws in Switzerland are some of the most stringent in the world. A law backed by the SVP prevents “convenience” marriages by outlawing foreigners from marrying Swiss citizens without a visa.

Switzerland’s net migration rate, the effect of migration on population change, is the third highest in Europe, trailing only Luxembourg and Spain. There are over 50,000 refugees in Switzerland, according to the UN Refugee Agency. With 332 asylum seekers per capita, Switzerland’s rate is double the European average.

The recent exclusion of military desertion as a reason for granting asylum was particularly harmful to applicants from Eritrea, which make up the largest portion of Switzerland's asylum-seekers.

In April, Switzerland reached an agreement with the European Union to restrict the total number of asylum seekers from all EU countries not capped under earlier arrangements.

Nora Munk More than 1 year ago
I'm from Swiss and we aren't all racist ! And just please when you make an article about Switzerland don't mix it up with Sweden it isn't in the same part Europe...
Christoph Goedl More than 1 year ago
According to Switzerland law it was a crime for a swiss citizien to do Desertation of he swiss army we canot accept this as a reason for refugee Status in our Country i mean our own People got punished for that. Second we only do not permitt the Towers on muslim churches since it is not considered to the Religion but the Symbol of army or whatever. And in matter of fact muslim churches do not belong to swiss ground anymore it is terretory of Turkey for example why should we accept this? Third which Country permitts to marry a foreigner without nothing? Do you guys read about green Card in USA, restrictions of entry to Canada or Australia? Where in USA you can marry a philipino Girl without nothing? Can i ask dear USA what happend to mister Snowden? And what happens to a american soldier that commit Desertation of the USA army? Where is The KK clan based in Switzerland or USA?
Christoph Goedl More than 1 year ago
Isnt actualy the SVP Party comparable to the Tea Party and the Republicans views in USA?
John Phillips Sr. More than 1 year ago
The wholesale banning of minarets is the final word of rank prejudice against Muslims among the Swiss. Building height restrictions in the local building codes are the unbiased way managing architectural esthetics.
Tom M More than 1 year ago
I get sick of people who continually apologize. If you dont mean it dont say it. Or if you dont have the guts to back it up.shut up. I apologize for nothing.
Christoph Goedl More than 1 year ago
Apologise not so bad man. We did Arrest some relative of the mister Ghadafi a son of him because beating hes wife in Switzerland. But we had to say sorry to the European Union because Ghadaffi was a big friend of Berlusconi you know the guy that like to have fun with underaged and well sorry but Ghadafis son did brake the law we arrested him and now you guys had some Problems to explain the bad bad swiss behaviour to Sir Ghadafi which hes famaly was permitted to beat women in France and England. What happend to mister Ghadafi few years later?