Switzerland naturalisation system attacked as racist

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The Independent Online

The path to becoming Swiss is one paved with prejudice and racism, according to a new study, and if you're Muslim or from the Balkans then you face even more of an uphill struggle to call the Alpine nation home.

A report from Switzerland's Federal Commission on Racial Discrimination (CRF) found the naturalisation system to be flawed and recommended wide-reaching changes.

Being born in Switzerland does not mean Swiss citizenship. A person must have lived in the country legally for at least 12 years. They then go before a commune committee to answer question, ranging from the neutral "Do you speak German?" to the more controversial "Can you imagine marrying a Swiss boy?" Then the commune vote in secret to accept or reject.

"Because decisions arrived at by 'direct democracy' can end up being arbitrary or racially-motivated, we recommend that they should be taken by an elected executive," the CRF said in its report. "It should be noted that the negative decisions most frequently affect migrants from the former Yugoslavia and Turkey."

Religion can also sway the vote. The report cites the town of Buchs where a local community refused to accept a Muslim woman because "by wearing a headscarf she was declaring a fundamentalist tendency."

But the call for reform will not automatically translate into changes. Switzerland's federal government in Berne has already been twice defeated in referendums to take naturalisation out the people's hands, and with foreigners playing an issue in campaigning for next month's general election, today's climate does not look any more favourable.

The Swiss People's Party (SVP), the largest party in parliament, has put migrants at the heart of its manifesto, and has plastered billboards with a poster of three white sheep kicking out a black sheep out of the circle.

"Official statements and political campaigns that present immigrants from the EU in a favourable light and immigrants from elsewhere in a bad light must stop," the report said.