Voters in Switzerland go to the polls for a referendum that could make it easier to automatically deport foreigners who commit minor crimes. The “Yes” and “No” campaigns have been emotional and divisive.
The vote, proposed by right-wing anti-immigrant People’s Party (SVP), means approval of a plan for handing foreign nationals who commit crimes in Switzerland. Any foreign national found guilty of two offenses, such as traffic violations, fighting, money laundering, giving false testimony or indecent exposure, within a time span of 10 years, should be expelled.
A 2010 deportation initiative, also launched by SVP and approved of by 52 percent of voters, included immediate expulsion of foreigners who commit grave crimes such as rape or armed robbery.
The 2016 referendum comes amid growing unease at rising immigration in Switzerland, as well as social and welfare problems, which SVP claims have been brought in by migrants. The party launched an initiative “For the effective expulsion of foreign criminals,” promoted by posters reading “Finally, create security!” and showing a sheep on top of the national flag kicking away a black sheep.
The Federal Council, Switzerland’s major executive body, dubbed SVP’s initiative “inhuman, because it treats the roughly 2 million invaders who live in Switzerland as second-class citizens.”
According to a February poll by Swiss Radio and Television (SRF), public attitude towards the SVP’s initiative was quite divisive – 46 percent would vote “Yes,” with 49 percent voting “No.”
More than 5 million people in Switzerland are entitled to vote, excluding over 2 million foreigners residing in the country. If “Yes” vote prevails, Switzerland would become the European country introducing the strictest immigration laws. The Alpine country has already introduced another controversial measure targeting migrants. In January, it was revealed that refugees arriving in Switzerland will have to turn over any assets they possess which are worth more than 1,000 Swiss francs ($997).
Switzerland is not part of the 28-member European Union but it is part of the Schengen border-free zone.
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