by Stefania Summermatter, swissinfo.ch
August 8, 2013 – 11:00
Over the last ten years, Switzerland has given more than 43,000 asylum seekers the provisional right to remain. But many cannot go home, and the strict limits placed on what they are allowed to do leave them in a state of uncertainty.
“My husband was a political dissident. He received multiple death threats and decided to seek refuge in Europe. I followed shortly afterwards, after I was also targeted,” said Keicha*. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Keicha sought asylum in Switzerland in 1996.
After a six-year wait, she received an F Permit – the permit for provisionally admitted foreigners – in 2002. This meant that although the authorities had denied her refugee status, they had suspended repatriation because she was considered in need of temporary protection.
At that time the DRC was in a state of civil war. “Returning would have put my life and those of my family at risk,” Keicha added in a telephone interview with swissinfo.ch.
The F Permit was created in the mid-1980s to deal with conflicts that were not covered by the Geneva Conventions. It was called “provisional” because it was supposed to be issued for a short period, and it gave fewer rights to its holders compared to refugees who are granted automatic permission to stay.
In reality, admission is provisional in name only – around 90 per cent of rejected asylum seekers end up staying in Switzerland mainly because conflicts in countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan have been going on for decades.
The Federal Migration Office also does not have the means to review individual cases every year. “We have to work according to priority and taking into account the principle of proportionality,” spokeswoman Céline Kohlprath explained. Repatriation becomes more difficult as time passes.
In all, 43,619 foreigners have been granted a F Permit in the last decade, compared with 24,240 gaining refugee status. Some F Permit holders gain permission to stay after a minimum of five years by having shown that they are well integrated and economically independent. But others find themselves stuck in a kind of admission limbo for many years. At the end of 2012 there were 22,600 F Permit holders, around half of whom had been in Switzerland for more than seven years.
“It’s a vicious circle: it’s not easy to find a job with a F Permit. And if you don’t have a stable income or decent salary it’s almost impossible to change your status in a short time,” said Lucine Miserez Bouleau from the Protestant Social Centre in Geneva, which helps immigrants.
This happened to Keicha, who is still “provisional” after 16 years in Switzerland. With only CHF3,200 ($3,443) a month and three children, she does not have the financial security to be granted a permanent residence permit.