As a small country at the crossroads of Northern and Southern Europe, Switzerland is known for its neutrality, its ethnic and linguistic diversity — German, French, Italian, and Romansch are all national languages — and a decentralized government that makes most laws at the canton, or state, level. Indeed, today each canton is responsible for certain aspects of migration and integration-related policies.
Switzerland has one of the highest immigration rates on the continent. According to the 2000 census, 22.4 percent of the total population of 7.4 million is foreign born, and 20.5 percent, or nearly 1.5 million, are foreigners, defined as persons with a foreign nationality. While Switzerland used to be a destination for employment-seeking French, Germans, and Italians, in the latter half of the 20th century it became home to Eastern European dissidents, Yugoslavian refugees, and asylum seekers from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.
Once home to thousands of guest workers from nearby countries in Europe, Switzerland has seen its foreigner population increase and become more diverse in the last 15 years. But that increase, along with rising number of asylum applications through the 1990s, has heightened the country’s interest in migration control and migration’s costs.
Right-wing extremists who expressed hostility toward foreigners, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants continued to be publicly active, it said.The Federal Commission against Racism and the non-governmental website humanrights.ch expressed concern in 2013 about increasingly hostile attitudes toward minorities.
The report for Switzerland identified overcrowded prisons as a particular problem, singling out Geneva’s Champ-Dollon prison which, though built for 376 inmates, now contains well over 800.
The prison has been in the news this week after violent clashes between ethnic groups of inmates, with 26 prisoners and eight wardens injured in five separate incidents.
The State Department report also highlights discrimination as a continued problem.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem, and discrimination against women in the workplace was also an issue. A disproportionate share of women held jobs with lower levels of responsibility, said the report, while women were promoted less frequently than men and were less likely to own or manage businesses.