ZURICH (Reuters) - A majority of Swiss voted in a referendum on Sunday to ease the expulsion of foreigners convicted of serious crimes such as murder, the latest sign of growing hostility to immigration in the Alpine state.
Some 53 percent of voters accepted a proposal to deport automatically foreigners convicted of crimes including rape or trafficking in drugs or people, according to returns published by Swiss television.
A committee will draw up a draft law that minimizes any conflict with Switzerland’s international obligations, the government said. The law will then be voted on by parliament.
In the same referendum, 58.5 percent of voters shot down a proposal that would have imposed a minimum cantonal (state) tax on the very rich, the figures aired on television showed.
Both results were confirmed by government statements.
The expulsion initiative was put forward by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which has mined increasing fear about immigration in recent years to become the country’s biggest political movement.
Posters for the SVP’s proposal show a group of white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. They first ran when the SVP was collecting signatures for the referendum.
“We want those (foreigners) who live in Switzerland to stick to the conventions and rules of the game,” SVP head Toni Brunner told Reuters. He said the vote was a resounding “‘no’ to abuses resulting from immigration, which has become uncontrollable. One side effect is rising crime.
VIOLATION OF ANTI-BIAS TREATIES?
Critics have said the SVP’s proposal could contravene international anti-discrimination treaties and the free movement of peoples under European Union law. Switzerland is outside the EU, but has accepted the bloc’s code allowing EU citizens to take up residence without special permission.
Under current law, decisions to expel foreigners convicted of serious crimes are made on a case-by-case basis.
Swiss official figures show that foreigners — who make up more than a fifth of Switzerland’s population of 7.7 million — are disproportionately charged with crimes.
Turnout was 53 percent, above the usual 40 percent in Swiss referendums, Swiss television reported.
Last year the Swiss endorsed a ban on construction of new minarets, drawing international condemnation.
“First the Muslims and minarets, now criminals,” said Mohammed, a native of Lebanon who recently received his Swiss passport. “We’re not all criminals.”
“I don’t regard this as a very good sign for our country,” said Christian Levrat, head of the center-left Social Democrats (SP), which opposed the proposal.
The SP proposed levying a minimum tax of 22 percent on income above 250,000 Swiss francs ($251,200). But support for the measure waned after business lobby economiesuisse warned it could trigger an exodus of the rich and their companies. Currently tax rates vary among cantons, yet they remain low compared to elsewhere in Europe.
“(It’s) a commitment to a tax-friendly climate,” Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told a news conference.”
Editing by Mark Heinrich