Swiss municipality to pay $300k a year not to host 10 asylum seekers

© Tony Gentile
The mayor of a rich Swiss municipality, which would rather pay $300,000 a year than allow 10 asylum seekers to live there, says the country should close its borders with barbed wire. A referendum on the country's asylum law is to take place in June.

Last weekend, the municipality of Oberwil-Lieli in the canton of Aargau held a local referendum on a budget passed last November. The budget decided not to pay 290,000 Swiss francs (about $300,000) a year as a compensation for not hosting its quota of 10 asylum seekers.

But the direct vote overturned the representatives' decision in a 579 to 525 vote. The wealthy municipality has some 2,100 residents.

The pay-off option has long existed for Swiss municipalities. But the price was hiked 11-fold last year as the country faced its share of the pan-European refugee crisis.

A new budget is yet to be passed, but the mayor of the municipality, Andreas Glarner, claimed the result as a partial victory for his party. An MP for the right-wing conservative Swiss People's Policy (SVP), he shares its tough stance on asylum seekers.

“Switzerland must close all of its green borders with barbed wire,” Glarner told national daily the Tages Anzeiger.

SVP opposes a reform of the Swiss asylum legislation championed by Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, a member of the Socialist Party. The reform, which was adopted last year by the parliament, would greatly speed up the country's ability to process asylum requests.

Critics however say the amendment would be discriminating against Swiss citizens by offering refugees free legal help. The SVP also doesn't like the sharp rise of the country's capacity to host refugees proposed by the amendment, and the authority it gives to the federal government to expropriate canton property for the purpose of tackling asylum seekers.

The party gathered 65,000 signatures in favor of putting the issue on a national referendum, which is a common mechanism in Switzerland to exercise its brand of direct democracy. The country holds dozens of such referendums each year.

Switzerland’s asylum law was first introduced in 1981 and has since been amended dozens of times. Many of them were due to SVP, which has been seeking a tougher approach to foreigner-related problems since the 1990s.

Swiss left-wingers, on the other hand, have invoked Switzerland's humanitarian traditions to oppose many of SVP's proposals through referendums. The June vote reverses their roles, wrote Swissinfo, a news platform maintained by the public Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.

SVP is no stranger to causing controversy while advocating its policies. Last year, it funded a poster campaign to promote their proposition for expelling foreign criminals, which featured images of a white sheep kicking a black one out of Switzerland. For the June vote the party decided not to go that way, possibly because the previous one failed to convince voters.

Glarner himself used posters with slogans such as “Aarau or Ankara?” and “Baden or Baghdad?” featuring an image of a mosque in his 2008 campaign for the national parliament.