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#Switzerland : Health emergency, but not for everybody! Detention of migrants in times of #pandemic

Switzerland. Health emergency, but not for everybody! The detention of migrants in times of pandemic.

Originally published by Freccias Spezzata. Translated by Act for freedom now.


  • Update on the centres in Ticino [the Canton of Ticino represents the bulk of the Italian-speaking area of Switzerland]
  • What we demand for all those who are in migrants’ centres
  • As before and more than before
For almost two years the Collettivo R-esistiamo has been spreading information and struggling with and for migrants forced to endure a migration system that isolates, excludes, deports, exploits and sometimes kills. We’ve repeatedly tried to reveal the degrading situation concerning structures designated as “welcome centres” in Ticino. Through actions, occupations, gatherings and demonstrations, we tried to have the bunkers/concentration camps of Camorino and Stabio closed down. We made known and supported the hunger strike carried out by those locked up in Camorino (June 2019) and spread information on the treatment reserved to migrants, i.e. physical and psychological violence perpetrated against them every day. Violence coming from many parts: SEM [Switzerland’s Migration Secretary of State], security officers, police, migration officials, and, last but not least, those who “know” but remain indifferent and complicit.
In the current situation of health emergency, it is even more obvious that there are people whose lives are worth less than others’. Even in viral slogans such as “only together can we make it” and “stay at home”, there are those who can’t find a place and remain invisible, confronting a daily life of control devices and infantilism, the main characteristics of these non-places. Other dimensions where days, months and sometimes years are punctuated with exclusion and uncertainty.
People considered at risk by the current health guidelines (and they were already so given their condition!) are surviving in cantonal and federal centres; nevertheless measures in force are not being respected, for example the re-arrangement of people in flats with adequate personal spaces (there are about 5,000 unused flats in Ticino!). Like everybody else, those surviving in these structures have the right to self-determine their lives. With or without permits. With or without a state of emergency.

The situation in the streets and at the borders

In Ticino the control measures put in force by the general staff in the face of what they call the health emergency are: the presence of the army at the borders, increased air control over borders with army drones and helicopters and a massive police presence in the streets.
Roadblocks are often to be chanced upon, where police ask: “Where are you going?” “What are you doing?” If you are driving with a Ticino numberplate, for now you only need easy answers such as “I’m doing some shopping for myself or for some elderly person” and “I’m going to work”. In these cases you are not asked for particular justifications or authorization documents. On the contrary cars with foreign plates are systematically stopped and if no work or stay permit is found, people are immediately expelled.
Secondary road passes are closed, only the main ones are open and transit is only possible for those who live on one side of the border and work on the other (and have valid reasons or are going to work) and for commercial traffic. The railway linking Italy to Switzerland is practically closed both ways.

The current context

Following the advent of the Covid-19 virus, the federal council declared a state of emergency and many aspects of life, such as everyday activities, relations and habits, have been compulsorily changed. A propitious time to incentivize even more invasive control measures and to further increase the presence of technology in all aspects of life. With the excuse of defending the “common good” i.e. the current economic system, what is underway, among other things, is a process of legitimization of telework, education and online shopping. It’s clear today more than ever that “there’s no other choice”: those who are outside the techno-world are excluded from all aspects of life. A change of the concept of social contact is underway and what better moment than this to potentiate the already overloaded internet networks through the implementation of 5G, a prosthesis towards 6G.
A dangerous acceleration that is trying to reduce (physical and other) spaces and times for individual and collective reflection that would allow us to understand the causes, reactions and consequences of this pandemic. And the very possibility of determining different perspectives in the present time.
But this is not everybody’s vital dimension, it isn’t a unique narrative and an even more compelling urgency is presenting itself, i.e. that of thinking and acting for others. To think of those who don’t have the privilege of a home, a document or were not born in the west. Of those who are locked up.
In times of covid-19 media saturation, news of ongoing conflicts in different areas of the world is disappearing and one hears about the war in Syria, the torture in Libya, the assaults on people at the Turkish-Greek border, the dead in the sea any longer. Or the struggle and resistance going on in various regions of the globe, for example Chile and Rojava.
In the face of all this, we want to keep our eyes open and to continue to struggle in order to redefine the concept of “only together can we make it” and of mutual aid.
* In the following document, there’s an update on the situations inside migrants’ Centres in the Ticino territory and on the enforcement of migration policies in a period of health emergency.

Updates on the various reception centres for migrants in Ticino:

The current situation at borders and the enforcement of migration policies during the epidemic
Closed borders are preventing “new” people from submitting asylum claims. They tried to carry on with hearings in Chiasso, but these turned out to be ridiculous given social distancing measures: people at a distance from one another, problems of communication and translation, etc.
There’s no chance of submitting asylum claims on the borders south of Switzerland, as declared by Micaela Crippa, responsible for federal centres in the southern-western region, who said that now “it’s possible to locate people in separate spaces because the federal centre of Balerna-Novazzano is practically empty as there are no more asylum claims”.
Accelerated asylum procedures are continuing uninterrupted, with the excuse of not wanting migrants to waste time. As a matter of fact, this confirms that there are first class lives and second class lives. Differences are clear between those who have a Swiss passport and those who are forced to live on the margins. The fact of not stopping asylum procedures exposes the people concerned furthermore to the risk of contracting the virus (for example because of contacts with other people in relation to spacing). The lives of those who don’t have valid documents and are not useful to production are worth less than those of anyone who is active in the job market; for this reason the institutions take the liberty of NOT taking adequate health precautions.
In this period of pandemic, the running of federal and cantonal centres in Ticino is even more focused on people’s detention and isolation. This is to allow undergoing asylum procedures not to be hampered. Even if deportations are officially blocked at the moment, in this situation SEM can continue undaunted to make the deportation machine function.

The situation in centres in Ticino:

Cantonal bunker of Camorino (run by the Canton in collaboration with Securitas):
The bunker is still open and there are 20 men inside.
People are forced to stay together in the small prefab outside the structure, all day long and with only one cooking facility.
Internet access is possible only in the prefab located outside.
Meals are no longer provided; 10 Swiss francs are given to each person every day and people have to manage their shopping themselves.
The toilet in the prefab is closed, the only available toilets are in the bunker.
Migrants can’t have gloves or masks (security officers have them!)
3 Securitas guards are always there watching.
A nurse makes “visits” twice a week, the only thing she can do is to administer painkillers and tranquilizers.
Cleaning in the bunker and in the prefab is done twice a week.
Migrants in the bunker are completely isolated, no contact with the outside.
Prisons are being emptied in order to secure distancing because of covid-19, but it’s absurd that migrants in administrative detention are being transferred [from prison] and crammed up in the bunker!
Cantonal centre of Cadro (run by the Red Cross): there are three people with corona virus. All those inside (180?) were compelled to be in quarantine (from 20th to 30th March), and absolutely prohibited from going out of the concentration camp, with only the chance of a few hours in the foreground or the yard, masks are compulsory for everybody (including children, who are numerous). A good part of 24 hours is spent in what the project site defines Cells (about 30) in insufficient personal space. Meals are prepared in a camp kitchen and no longer in common kitchens or dining rooms. People at higher risk can’t get out of the rooms, not even to the foreground, and their food is taken to their rooms. At the moment people can leave the centre for 2 hours a day and can cook but with a whole set of restrictions and rules.
Cantonal centre of Paradiso (run by the Red Cross): people, families and unaccompanied teenagers can’t go out of the building or residential areas. On the first floor there are families, on the upper floors the rooms house groups of kids (3 or 4 per room).
Cantonal centre of Arbedo (run by the Red Cross): people were transferred to other centres and the structure was closed down.
New federal centre “Pasture” in Balerna-Novazzano (run by SEM): people are divided according to their ethnicity and have their meals separately; the food is delivered by an outside company. There are few people because there are no asylum claims due to closed borders but also because people were scattered between the “Pasture” centre, a registration centre and a new centre at the station of Chiasso.

What we are demanding:

The immediate closure of the bunker of Camorino, non-place where, besides all we’ve already said, it’s not in the slightest possible to apply the rules issued by the public health federal Office; 
For all those who are in reception centres:
Rapid rearrangement in flats or other accommodations where there is sufficient personal space;
Constant health and medical assistance;
The same possibilities to get out and move around that are given to the rest of the population;
General regularization of all the “guests” in centres and those who are “irregular” with extension of their permits and accommodation for all;
Let’s not remain silent only looking at “our four walls”; let’s break all forms of isolation and racism! And, going back to what we started with, we demand:
Solidarity with all migrants
free self-determination of body
mind and life for all!
Collettivo R-ESISTIAMO, April 2020.

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