Switzerland evokes images of refined culture, glistening banks with repositories of money squirreled away by wealthy individuals from all parts of the world, skiing, chocolate and majestic mountain ranges. However, as with many countries, in the past 20 years there has been a steady increase in crime. Studies seem to demonstrate or explain that at least part of this increase in crime in Switzerland is due to increases in juvenile deviation and participation in criminal activities as well as increases in immigration.
While the Swiss have one of the lowest crime rates despite the country’s liberal gun laws, there are other aspects to its political, economic and governmental structures that make it susceptible to increased crime. Part of this is due to the unique financial structures and protections offered by the country. Despite substantial legislation and reporting requirements, secrecy laws allow residents and non-residents to conduct business through intermediaries and offshore entities making even the most menial oversight difficult to near impossible. As a result, Switzerland’s role as a major international financial center leaves it vulnerable to money laundering; criminality protected by the country’s own secrecy laws. The country also unwittingly serves as conduit for international drug trafficking in cocaine, heroin, synthetics, cannabis and ecstasy. Some of these drugs not only travel through Switzerland, but are also grown or produced in the country, and all are consumed by some of its inhabitants.
The Swiss population is comprised of one-fourth foreigners. In 2010, the Swiss initiated a controversial deportation policy supported by its residents. The policy allowed the deportation of foreign nationals convicted of sex crimes, robbery, drug dealing and social welfare abuse. Deportation of these undesirables however has been cause for debate and concern as some of those deported did not in fact commit crimes. In fact a large proportion of those deported were asylum seekers (and who were not granted asylum) and foreign nationals. Due to the statistical abnormality in the percentage of deportees falling in this category caused concerns of xenophobia. However, more than 40 percent of those not granted asylum chose to leave the country voluntarily, helped in part by Switzerland’s repatriation payment to them of approximately $2,100 USD. The other category of deportees fell into those who were in the country illegally. These individuals did not have papers, were given temporary residence for studies and stayed beyond their departure date and those who were granted residence due to marriage, but then immediately ended that marriage after residency was granted. It would seem that the United States and Switzerland are very similar in these areas. While the latter category of immigrant individuals has committed the crime of social welfare abuse, it seems hardly to rise to the level worthy of deportation, hence the concerns being raised by the Swiss populace.
There appears to be substantiation of the over representation of deviance and crime amongst immigrant children. Two researchers, Alexander Vazsonyi and Martin Killias updated a review of the research in crime among Swiss migrants since 1997. Their research observes that the recent increase in violent and other types of crime appears to be related to increased juvenile and young immigrant criminal activity.
Between the 1950s and 1960s there were low offending rates of crime and this continued with a rather peaceful coexistence between the Swiss and minorities with the exception of some spikes of criminal offenses due primarily with drug dealing. While there is no one seminal research study it does appear from the various research controlled and self-reporting studies of Swiss youth that there is increased crime in Switzerland and this is in part due to the migrant youth. While various hypotheses as to why this is true include the failure to assimilate, being contained with various familial and political structures from their country of origin which are limiting the youth’s opportunities, to the fact that many immigrants bring the conflict with them from the old country. Whatever the reason, immigrants and increased crime seem to be occurring in Switzerland and the deportation of individuals who failed to secure asylum or who are foreign nationals who have committed crimes or outlived their stay, is not going to eliminate the real criminal offenders who are now residents of the country.
By Brendie Kelly
University of Chicago Press Immigrants, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Switzerland, Martin Killias, Crime and Justice, Vol. 21, Ethnicity, Crime and Immigration: Comparative and Cross-National Perspectives (1997), pp. 375-405
Immigrant Danger? Immigration and Increased Crime in Europe, Keith D. Hiatt, November 8, 2005
Paradise Lost? New Trends in Crime and Migration in Switzerland, Martin Killias, to be published in W.F. McDonald (ed.) Immigration, Crime and Justice