Law in Contemporary Society

Immigration and Crime in Switzerland

-- By MarkusVonDerMarwitz - 17 April 2016

My family moved to Switzerland in 1996, and I grew up there during the time when a large number of new immigrants and refugees were arriving as a result of the war in Yugoslavia. Having been born to Swedish parents in the US, I was nervous about moving to a new country. Before attending an international English speaking school, I started in the Swiss public school system and developed strong friendships with a number of the newly arrived immigrants largely a result of finding a shared insecurity about being immersed in a new culture and struggling with the language. Although I definitely felt like a foreigner, and was was classed as “the foreign one” by my Swiss friend, being an expat rather than an immigrant or refugee resulted in a vastly different treatment and upbringing, although I was insufficiently aware of it at the time.

Systemic Root Causes of Crime

Immigrants from the former Yugoslavia are currently listed as the least popular immigrant group in Switzerland, and there has been a political movement to deport individual immigrants, and even their entire families, for committing a crime. Earlier this year, there was a referendum that failed to pass, which would have allowed for the deportation of immigrants after serving sentences for serious crimes, as well as multiple incidents of certain misdemeanors. Although the measure failed, it is an indicator of how politically charged the issue has become.

One statistic often cited by the country’s right wing and largest political party, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), is the fact that individuals from the Balkans commit crimes at a significantly higher rate than indigenous Swiss citizens, and they further assert that their Islamic culture is incompatible with Swiss values, which culminated into a successful referendum that banned the building of further minarets in the entire country in 2009. They argue that if they are unwilling to assimilate properly to the culture they should be required to leave. But overly focusing on the incidents of crime themselves misses the real underlying reasons behind this increased tendency towards crime.

For instance, a large portion of Swiss counties have a tiered school system, as did my county. In mine, the school was divided into 4 tiers and students were placed according to a test administered after lower school, with only the top tier being eligible for a full high-school education that leads to a potential university spot. Students attending any of the lower tiers usually begin an apprenticeship around the ages of 15 or 16, with the lowest tier having the slimmest picks for apprenticeship positions that often translate to the lowest paying jobs. Growing up, I would often hear stories from people I used to go to school with about how most of the students in the lowest tiers were immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Many believed the poor school performance and ending up in the lower tiers was down to inferior intelligence and academic abilities, as opposed to inadequate grasp of German. And there was a palpable divide between indigenous Swiss students and immigrants. Immigrants from the Balkans now make up a significant part of the Swiss unskilled labor market. Although the standard of living in Switzerland is extremely high, still, unsurprisingly, the lowest income groups continue to be the most prone to crime.

My Own Experience

I left the Swiss school system early and attended an international English speaking school where separate cultures where a part of the experience and individuals struggling with language was common. I was allowed to make mistakes while I was learning English. Moreover, when I went back to visit the Swiss schools I noticed it was acceptable for me to make mistakes when I was speaking German because I guess I was an acceptable foreigner. Now I am confidently fluent in German; yet, this same courtesy was rarely extended to individuals from other immigrant groups. I am unsure whether I would have done well enough on the exam at age 12 to make it to the top tier because I was still learning German, and the road to attending university would have been far more difficult.

There is still a sense that these individuals feel like outsiders in their home country and a number of my friends from Kosovo and Albania no longer have the feeling of gratitude that their parents felt for the opportunity to move to Switzerland. There was always a sense that they were supposed to be Swiss, yet it was acceptable for me to remain foreign, because I was an acceptable kind of foreigner. Other immigrants were meant to assimilate without special courtesy.


I am in no way suggesting this was the reaction of the entire country, or even the majority, but it was enough for me to recognize that in a way I sympathize with individuals who are more prone to crime and have developed a feeling of dissatisfaction with their situation in the country. It seems wrong to give such emphasis to individual actions. This surface level analysis misses the deeper roots of what causes the crime; the underlying tensions that have been building from a young age. What Zizek classifies as “subjective” violence often disguises underlying systemic forces that have given rise to this phenomenon.

This problem is in no way unique to Switzerland, and it is particularly salient in my country of origin, Sweden, where anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment is challenging the country’s liberal reputation. I am unsure what the exact fix is to this problem, but it seems unjust to deport groups of “criminals” because they have failed to fit into a system that on the one hand says that in order to stay they need to accept certain values, must live a certain way, and behave like model citizens and at the same time never really wanting to accept them and placing multiple barriers to the goal of achieving any real assimilation. This seems to be the conflict between the multiple personalities of the individuals making these claims that makes these incompatible views appear perfectly logical.

If the real purpose of the draft is the discussion presently limited to the conclusion, then the best route to improvement is to get it out of the conclusion and make it the focus of the essay, cutting the discussion of your personal experience in Switzerland to a significant extent, in order to serve only as a comparison with the social structures that push immigrants into the underclass.

I do not think the comparison implied between Sweden and Switzerland is in any way fair to the Swedes. Sweden has been assimilating immigrants into its very comprehensive welfare state since the end of WWII. Although not a nation of immigrants like the US, it has no profound nativist tradition, because until the 20th century there were no people on Earth (except Finns) who wanted to move to Sweden. The Swiss, on the other hand, are a mountain people who have been xenophobes and nativists for thousands of years. They have no tradition of welcoming or assimilating immigrants. they do not marry out, they are (like most mountain people) rabid localists who will not even agree to be governed by one another, let alone by outsiders. Their democracy, their military organization, their educational and professional structures, are all adjusted to the task of maintaining sturdy independence from others' rule of law and are exclusivist by design. You were, as you say, an expat, cognitively well-endowed to learn how to act Swiss, and not in need of either citizenship or support. That made you a customer.

On the side where, as I say, this first draft really falls, I think your argument has a quality of naive discovery: you have observed from outside, as an idea, what people less privileged than you and I acquire as lived experience: Those who are poor, who are immigrants, who are cognitively or linguistically marginal to the culture of the ruling class, are already "deviant" from the point of view of that ruling class. The line that separates them from the forms of deviance that are subject to criminal punishment is thin or non-existent: individual fortune is all that stands between them and the harshest treatment meted out in society. That can be said quickly, and its relation to migration flows in a globalized world takes a few sentences more. But it isn't a great big discovery, just something we were fortunate enough to think of rather than live through. The question is: so what next?


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r5 - 11 Jun 2016 - 08:00:24 - EbenMoglen
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