More than one in three Swiss feel uncomfortable around people perceived to be "different" because of their nationality, religion, skin color or other factors, a government survey found.
The poll released yesterday sought for the first time to gauge how people coexist in a country of 8.4 million residents, a quarter of them foreigners.
Thirty-six percent said they felt uneasy in the presence of people they found outside the norm, particularly those who spoke a foreign language, or moved around. It did not give more details on the last category, but Roma and other itinerant groups have complained of discrimination in the mountainous state that has stayed outside the European Union. Sixteen percent of respondents went further and said they felt threatened by foreigners.
Despite that, most were in favor of granting more rights to foreign nationals, the poll discovered. Two out of three said racism was a key social problem, and 56 percent believed the integration of migrants was working well.
With four national languages and a decentralized system of government, traditionally Christian Switzerland is increasingly diverse. There are more than 10 main religious communities in a population made up of people with roots in 190 other countries.
Right-wing parties have stoked anti-foreigner sentiment, pushing for a series of measures including a ban on the construction of new minarets on mosques that became law in 2009. But parliament last year watered down demands in a 2014 referendum to impose quotas on immigration from the European Union, the bloc that surrounds it and provides most of its trade.
The European Union has long been coping with the growing influx of refugees from mainly Syria, Iraq and North African countries. The uncontrolled arrival of well over one million people, many fleeing war in Syria, triggered chaos on the continent, prompting key transit nations, primarily Italy, Spain and Greece, along the migrant trail to seal their borders with fences. The flow also sparked fierce tensions inside the bloc, with eastern and central European nations lambasting Germany's "open-door" policy which they say allowed radicals to pose as refugees and help carry out attacks inside Europe. The EU countries have so far shown a rare unity in order to find a common strategy to tackle its worst migration crisis since World War II.