Illegal immigration into Switzerland almost tripled last year, according to statistics published on Thursday by the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (OFDF).
The number of unlawful border crossings into the country has been on the rise in the last three years, jumping from 11,043 in 2020 to 18,859 in 2021, before skyrocketing last year to 52,077.
The substantial increase last year “is mainly due to the irregular entry of migrants into Switzerland via the eastern border as well as via the southern border,” the federal office stated, referring to its borders with Austria and Italy.
“The migrants who entered Switzerland illegally are mainly of Afghan and Moroccan nationality,” the OFDF added.
Many of those entering the country were in possession of an Austrian asylum procedure card, had been in Europe for some time, and were looking to travel on to France or the United Kingdom, according to information from border guards as cited by Swiss news outlet SWI.
Switzerland is surrounded by EU nations that signed up to the free-movement Schengen Area, an area Switzerland itself is a member of, making border checks considerably more difficult to implement.
Despite a considerable rise in irregular border crossings, the number of people arrested on suspicion of people smuggling actually fell slightly last year compared to 2021, from 478 to 476 arrests.
In an attempt to combat the concerning trend in illegal immigration, the Swiss and Austrian governments agreed last September on an action plan for increased cross-border searches and greater cooperation to combat smugglers.
Two-thirds of the illegal immigration arrests in 2022 took place in the last five months of the year, suggesting the action taken by authorities has at least been of some use, but the growing number of illegal immigrants shows more needs to be done to contain the situation.