Which foreigners face the most discrimination?

Aversion to particular groups of foreigners can slowly change over time or even turn into acceptance. A number of foreign communities that are now considered to be well integrated and part of the fabric of society were not so long ago being stigmatised as ‘unwelcome outsiders’ who did ‘not fit in’.

Until the 1970s, it was the Italians who personified the idea of foreigners that were to be excluded and rejected. In the xenophobic discourse of the time, they were belittled as intruders with no place in Swiss society. Today, they are an integral part of that society and many Swiss are proud of the country’s ‘italianità’.

Later, from around the mid-1980s, it was the Tamils who were denigrated as drug dealers and terrorists and considered impossible to integrate. Nowadays, they are regularly named in surveys as the second most popular foreigners of non-European origin after the Tibetans, and are considered to be unobtrusive, hard-working and well-integrated.

In the early 1990s, it was the (Kosovo) Albanians who met with general hostility. Although this has lessened somewhat, like all other people hailing from the former Yugoslavia, they still have difficulty in gaining acceptance, with young people unable to find jobs and applications for Swiss citizenship being rejected, etc.

From chapter 6.3 onwards, the SCRA report looks at four population groups that are either particularly vulnerable to racial discrimination or racist behaviour in Switzerland or whose protection is ensured under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities: Jews, Muslims, blacks, and itinerant or sedentary Yenish, Sinti/Manouche and Roma.

Following the heightening of the conflict between Israel and Palestine in the summer of 2014, there was a rise in the number of discriminatory statements, threats of violence and hate messages directed against Jews, especially on social media.

The Muslim community in Switzerland is not homogeneous: its members come from culturally diverse backgrounds and have very different views on issues of faith. The vast majority are not members of any Islamic organisation and claim to only rarely practise their religion, if at all. Hostility towards Muslims and Islam manifests itself as racial discrimination in the education sector, in the workplace and in relation to naturalisation, but can also take the form of violent assaults on Muslims and attacks on mosques or Islamic centres.

Racism and discriminatory behaviour towards black people are mostly prevalent in the public sphere, in dealings with the authorities, in the workplace and with regard to housing. The person’s skin colour alone is the deciding factor in anti-black racism – regardless of whether they have just arrived in Switzerland or lived here for generations, and regardless of how well integrated they may be. Anti-black racism demonstrates that integration measures are not enough in themselves: action to eradicate discriminatory practices, statements and attitudes is also required.

«Black people in Switzerland», FCR (German, French, Italian)

«Interdialogos» review, no.1 2007, «Être Africain en Suisse» (in French)

Itinerant and sedentary Yenish

Of the 30,000–40,000 Yenish and Sinti/Manouche living in Switzerland, some 3,000–5,000 lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle, whereas the rest have settled down and become sedentary. The Yenish form the largest group, while the Sinti/Manouche are few in number. Those who live as travellers are restricted in their semi-nomadic lifestyle, primarily by the lack of stopping places and short-stay areas, despite the fact that a Federal Supreme Court decision has ruled that the authorities must make provision in their spatial planning for appropriate areas and sites to be used by travellers, recognising that their traditional way of life is protected by the Constitution (BGE 129 II 321). The Swiss Yenish and Sinti communities, whether itinerant or not, are an officially recognised minority under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which means the federal government and cantons have a particular duty to protect them. Nevertheless, their travelling lifestyle can present challenges in areas such as social security, liability law and education, which in turn can lead to discrimination.

Most of the Roma who came to Switzerland owing to political events in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe are now fully integrated, and most members of the public would not be able to recognise them as Roma. The groups of Roma who travel across Switzerland in the summer months, attracting great media attention, come from other European countries (especially France and Italy) and are just passing through. Lastly, there is a small number of Roma (beggars, juvenile thieves and prostitutes) who dominate the headlines, thus contributing to their overall public image. The Swiss media has a tendency to reduce them to negative stereotypes and frequently paints a picture of the Roma that is far removed from the real life of the majority of the group’s members.

A number of institutions keep track of racist or discriminatory behaviour and attitudes. The chapter on data in the SCRA report (PDF, 1 MB, 26.11.2018) provides an overview and looks at changes in racist incidents in Switzerland over the last 20 years.

The Federal Commission against Racism (FCR) and the Federal Commission on Migration (FCM) also produce a variety of publications on the topic (in French, German and Italian), which can be found on their websites.

In addition, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) makes information available on some of the countries of origin of the resident foreign population: SEM Country of Origin Information.

The Federal Office of Culture (FOC) publishes regular reports on the «Yenish, Sinti and Roma Action Plan» (in French, German and Italian).