Swiss referendum set to support deportation of foreign criminals

With some campaigners waving placards that have been widely denounced as racist, Switzerland is to hold a divisive referendum this weekend, which is likely to approve the automatic expulsion of "foreign criminals" convicted of offences ranging from murder to falsely claiming benefits.

The draconian measures are being advocated by the popular far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP), which was behind a similar referendum almost exactly a year ago that led to a controversial nationwide ban on the building of minarets outside mosques.

Despite the international criticism heaped on Switzerland over its minaret ban the SVP is defiant about its plan to kick out "foreign criminals".

Silvia Bär, the party's general secretary said in an interview: "Everyone warned about international tensions over of the minaret ban and what happened ? Nothing!"

Opinion polls held in the run-up to this Sunday's vote predict that 58 per cent of the electorate will approve the measures while 31 per cent are expected to vote against the idea.

The SVP, the largest political party in Switzerland, has decided to reintroduce divisive campaign placards that the party used during the 2007 elections. These depict a herd of snowy white sheep kicking a black sheep off a large red-and-white Swiss national flag. "Create Security" reads the slogan.

The SVP posters were described by United Nations officials as "racist" when they were used in 2007. However the SVP has shown no qualms about using them again for its anti-foreign criminal campaign.

Another SVP placard depicts a bearded man in a vest wearing a silver neck chain. "Faruk B is a murderer – should he be allowed to become a Swiss citizen?" asks a slogan underneath.

The referendum aims to ensure the automatic expulsion of all foreign criminals convicted of offences ranging from murder to burglary, once released from prison. All foreigners found guilty of misappropriating social security or unemployment payments would also be expelled. They would be barred from re-entry for up to 20 years.

The government has voiced concerns about the proposals and warned that they would break bilateral agreements Switzerland holds with the EU.

The government has proposed a compromise version that would oblige the authorities to examine every expulsion case individually. However the opinion polls suggest a majority of Swiss will vote for the SVP plan on Sunday.

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