Switzerland’s far-right People’s Party, the SVP, appears on course for a strong referendum victory over the expulsion of foreign criminals.
The list of offences includes rape, robbery, drug dealing and social security abuse.
But some Swiss voters see the ballot as another sign of growing hostility towards immigrants, when the country should be concentrating on other concerns.
‘‘I think there are other priorities currently, other than deporting foreign criminals out of Switzerland. The initiative, the text as it was formulated, has certain loopholes. It is not complete,’‘ said one Swiss voter.
The SVP has played on fears about immigration in recent years to become Switzerland’s biggest political force.
The party’s former president says concerns about crime are real and that violent incidents are on the rise. It has cited official figures which show foreigners accounted for nearly 60 per cent of murders and most burglaries last year.
The former head of the SVP and Swiss Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said: ‘‘This referendum is necessary because the crimes of foreign residents are becoming more violent and we do not want these black sheep. They should be expelled.’‘
If the law is passed, foreigners found guilty, who may have spent most of their lives in Switzerland, would automatically be deported to their country of origin after spending the jail time they were sentenced to. Criminals who receive automatic deportation measures would have served a minimum prison term of one year.
However, the issue of criminal foreigners is particularly sensitive in Switzerland. It has long been at the forefront of a Europe-wide debate on subjects ranging from immigration, national identity, asylum and Islam.
Last year, a surprisingly large majority of voters backed a constitutional ban on the building of minarets, drawing international condemnation.
If passed, critics say tomorrow’s vote will cause further difficulties for Switzerland and strain relations with the EU over laws governing the free movement of peoples.