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Switzerland denies Muslim girls citizenship after they refuse to swim with boys at school

The Independent logo The Independent 7/1/2016 Jess Staufenberg
The girls felt they could not swim in a pool with their male classmates without breaking their religious restrictions (Picture: [copyright]) © Provided by The Independent The girls felt they could not swim in a pool with their male classmates without breaking their religious restrictions (Picture: [copyright])

Switzerland has rejected citizenship requests from two Muslim girls for refusing to take part in swimming lessons with boys at school.

The 12- and 14-year-old will no longer be considered for naturalised citizenship because they have not complied with the school curriculum, authorities in Basel said.

The girls are understood to have refused to take part in school swimming lessons because boys were present and their religion forbade that form of interaction, according to USA Today. Their applications for Swiss passports have now been overturned.

Meanwhile, the father of two other girls who refused to let his daughters swim with boys was fined $4,000 swiss francs (around £2,900) by a district court in another part of the country.

Stefan Wehrle, president of the country's naturalisation committee, told TV station SRF that "whoever doesn't fulfil these conditions, violates the law and therefore cannot be naturalised."

The father, who was fined by a court in Altstaeten in the north-east of the country, had been in trouble with authorities previously for requiring his daughters to wear head veils in school, according to The Local.

In the end, his eldest daughter was granted the right to wear a veil to school by Switzerland's highest court on the grounds of religious freedom.

Parts of the Qu'ran and the collection of oral traditions laid out in the Hadith, which follow the example of the Prophet Mohammed, advise Muslims on interactions between men and women.

These include unrelated men and women avoiding physical contact and women being dressed modestly. The explicit requirement to cover the head and face is not in the Qu'ran.

The two cases in Switzerland are the latest in a series of refusals by authorities to grant immigrants citizenship for cultural reasons.

Two Muslim brothers who refused to shake hands with their female teacher on the grounds of religious restriction were soon the centre of widespread media coverage and public uproar.

The boys' father, an imam at the Basel mosque, immediately had his naturalisation request suspended by authorities, while any parent or guardian who refuses to shake a teacher's hand can now expect a $5,000 fine.

Yet the case is not always limited to instances of religious difference. The resident-led committees which lead recommendations for immigrants in their communities gaining citizenship have previously rejected applications before on the grounds of people not seeming "Swiss enough".

One immigrant family from Kosovo who had been in the country for a decade was told their tendency to wear shabby clothing in the street and not greet passersby was proof of their lack of integration.

And an American who had lived in the country for 40 years had his application refused after being unable to name any Swiss friends or nearby villages.

Switzerland has been a top destination for immigrants coming to Europe and, along with Australia, it has the highest proportion of immigrants in the developed world.

But the country has also been accused of outright racism after 60 per cent of Swiss citizens voted in 2009 "against the construction of minarets" - the towers that deliver the call to prayer on either side of mosques - in the country.

Britain has said before that it would like controlled immigration as in Switzerland or Australia. As a consequence of ending the free movement of people, Switzerland lost full access to the Single Market.


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