Swiss Referendum on Citizenship After Anti-Muslim Row

A poster urges voters to reject “uncontrolled citizenship”.
A poster urges voters to reject “uncontrolled citizenship”.

Switzerland is holding a referendum on Sunday on whether to make it easier for third generation immigrants to become citizens, after a campaign tainted by anti-Muslim messages and charges of religious prejudice.

The government, as well as most politicians and political parties, supports the proposal that would allow the grandchildren of immigrants to skip several steps in the lengthy process of securing a Swiss passport, Aljazeera reported.

But the outcome of the referendum, the latest in Switzerland’s direct democracy system, has been clouded by the far-right nationalist Swiss People’s Party, which put issues of Islam and national identity at the center of the debate.

According to a migration department study, less than 25,000 people in the country of about eight million currently qualify as third generation immigrants, meaning they have at least one grandparent who was born in the country or acquired Swiss residency.

Nearly 60% of that group are Italians, followed by those with origins in the Balkans and Turkish nationals.

“Debate on the proposal had nothing to do with religion at the outset,” said Sophie Guignard of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern.

It was SVP, a party repeatedly accused of demonizing Islam, that focused on the risks of more Muslims becoming citizens and the possible “loss of Swiss values”, Guignard told AFP.

Political initiatives that either directly or implicitly target Muslims may be on the rise in the West, notably including US President Donald Trump’s travel ban against seven mainly Muslim countries, which was undone in a US court this week.

But in Switzerland such moves are nothing new.

The SVP in 2009 successfully persuaded Swiss voters to approve a ban on new mosque minaret construction, while religiously charged messages have been a part of multiple referendums on immigration since.

The latest polls from the Gfs.bern institute show 66% of people support easier citizenship for third-generation immigrants, with 31% against and 3% undecided.

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