By Samuel Jaberg
Aug 31, 2016
Switzerland is considering several options against jihadis, including the application of a law stripping them of their Swiss nationality
Should a young dual citizen be stripped of his Swiss passport after going to fight for the Islamic State in Syria? Authorities are considering the possibility, but the effectiveness of such measures is up for debate.
Politicians across Europe have called for similar legislation, most recently in France
Switzerland is no exception, with parliament having discussed the issue at length. Ultimately, the House of Representatives approved a parliamentary initiative from the conservative right Swiss People’s Party to automatically withdraw citizenship from dual national jihadis, but the Senate threw the proposal out in June.
A ‘radical’ measure
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the government is considering measures similar to those proposed in Germany.
How many Swiss have been stripped of citizenship?
Withdrawal of citizenship is historically associated with dictatorships and the emergency powers introduced in wartime. Between 1940 and 1952, 86 people had their Swiss passports withdrawn for security reasons. One of the most recent cases was in 1945, concerning a citizen of canton Obwalden who had joined the Nazi party in Germany.
Since 1953, there have been no cases of Swiss citizens by birth being stripped of their citizenship. But Article 41 of the Swiss Citizenship Law, which provides for the cancellation of naturalisation if this status was acquired fraudulently, has been invoked more frequently: between 2006 and 2015, 567 people had their passports withdrawn retroactively, whether or not they were also citizens of another country.
“We are examining whether it would be possible, in specific cases, to withdraw Swiss citizenship from a person of dual nationality who goes off to jihad,” says Léa Wertheimer, a spokeswoman for the State Secretariat for Migration
(SEM). “Following the withdrawal of the person’s passport, the federal police (Fedpol) could then ban the person from re-entering the country and deal with the direct threat they pose to Switzerland.”
Automatically withdrawing citizenship would go against the rule of law, and Wertheimer agrees that stripping a person of their nationality is, in any case, a “radical measure”. She says the government’s proposal would be used on a case-by-case basis, “applied only after painstaking investigation and in exceptional circumstances”.
The proposal is based on a never-before-used provision of the Swiss Citizenship Law introduced in 1953. It says that the Swiss government may withdraw citizenship from a person of dual nationality whose behaviour causes “serious damage to the interests or reputation of Switzerland”. But according to the migration office, the provision can only be used in extremely serious circumstances such as atrocities or war crimes, or if the person concerned represents a real threat to Switzerland.
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