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Switzerland 2016 Crime & Safety Report: Geneva

Europe > Switzerland; Europe > Switzerland > Geneva

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Post Crime Rating: Medium

Crime Threats 

The government releases statistics for each calendar year in April of the following year (statistics for 2015 will not be released until April 2016). Below reported statistics are from 2014.

According to crime statistics provided by Swiss authorities, 2014 saw a decline in “thefts with violence” and pickpocketing across the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. The number of residential burglaries in both cantons remained essentially the same; there was an increase in “thefts from vehicles” in both. Violent crime stayed the same across the cantons. There were 41 murders in Switzerland in 2014, the lowest rate since 1982. This may be attributed to new police programs directed at combating the increasing criminality in the last few years. 

According to crime statistics for the canton of Geneva, there was a seven percent decrease in overall crime, reported “thefts with violence” decreased 38 percent from 2013, pickpocketing fell by nine percent (to 5,245 cases), but the number of “thefts from vehicles” rose six percent. Petty crime (pickpockets, theft of unattended bags) is a concern. Hotels have reported guests’ bags being stolen at the check-in desk, and trams and buses are regular places for pickpocketing and bags that are left unattended to be stolen. Travelers should be especially cautious at the airport, train stations, on trains, locations that are frequented by tourists (restaurants/bars in "Les Paquis"), and in shopping areas.

According to crime statistics for the canton of Vaud, there was an eight percent decrease of reported crime, the number of “thefts with violence” decreased 30 percent (possibly the result of more visible police operations), reported pickpocketing fell 25 percent, but a 19 percent rise in the number of “thefts from vehicles.”

Switzerland still faces the challenge of organized crime. According to police publications, Switzerland has affiliates of organized crime from:
Italy, particularly in money laundering;
Southeast Europe (Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo), particularly in trafficking cocaine; laundering money, trafficking of migrants, extortion and property crimes;
Russia, particularly in money laundering, break-ins, and thefts;
China, particularly in extortion, trafficking of migrants, blackmail, credit cards, drugs, arms, prostitution and illegal gambling;
West and North Africa, particularly false documents, trafficking of cocaine and fraud.

Cybersecurity Issues

In 2014, the Swiss Cybercrime Coordination Unit (CYCO) received a total of 10,214 suspicious activity reports on cybercrime via the online reporting form (www.cybercrime.ch). This is an increase of 10.9 percent over 2013 (9,208 reports). 

Most of the reports submitted in 2014 concerned property offenses. The increase correlates to the findings of independent sources such as quarterly reports by anti-virus software manufacturers or Internet security researchers that confirm that the volume of spam/phishing emails and the number of malware viruses are on the increase worldwide. 

Many of the reported fraud attempts concerned false advertisements on auction and classified advertising websites and fictitious real estate advertisements. Small- and medium-sized businesses were increasingly targeted by fraudsters who went to considerable lengths to obtain information on companies’ payment methods. Using stolen e-mail access data obtained by phishing to gather information on payment methods and outstanding invoices, the fraudsters then sent forged e-mails to employees at the fiduciary or bank ordering payments to the fraudster’s account. Based on reports by the cantonal police, the extent of damage in Switzerland in 2014 was estimated at several million Swiss francs.

CYCO received the first reports of sextortion in 2013. Most of complainants were men who claimed to have been targeted on social media or dating websites, supposedly by women. Following an initial written exchange, the perpetrator suggested continuing the exchange on an online video platform. The intimate images were recorded and used to extort money from the complainant under threat that they would be posted online if the sum demanded was not paid. The demands continued even when the complainant paid the sum requested, the amount successively rising.

In the latter half of 2013, CYCO started receiving a growing number of reports on Trojans that were encrypting files and demanding a ransom to unblock the data. This type of malware is distributed in e-mail attachments and doctored websites. Once a computer becomes infected, the malware encrypts all the data on the computer’s hard drive, rendering it inaccessible to the user. The user is required to pay a sum of money to have the files decrypted. 

CYCO received numerous reports in 2014 on e-mails containing e-banking malware as an attachment. The e-mails were worded in such a way as to prompt recipients into opening the attachment, thus installing malware. Once installed, the sender was able to infiltrate e-banking sessions and change browser settings. Variations of the malware can also map keyboard entries and network traffic in order to steal usernames and passwords.

The cybercrime incidents of 2014 appear to have become increasingly professional: the grammar and spelling in phishing attempts and in false classified advertisement and fraudulent e-mails were of a higher standard, and the layout and design were of a better quality. This makes it increasingly difficult for users to distinguish between genuine and lookalike web content.

Other Areas of Concern 

Visitors to Geneva are reminded they should remain particularly alert for pickpockets, confidence scams, and other attempts to steal mobile phones, laptops, tablets, wallets, purses, bags or backpacks in public areas:
Lake Geneva's promenade;
Vicinity of the "Jardin Anglais"/Mont Blanc Bridge;
Large shopping areas (such as Rue de Rive);
Plainpalais area (open market);
The Cornavin train station;
Geneva's International Airport; including the train station at the airport;
Les Paquis area;
Public transportation (trams, trains, buses);
Checking into/out of hotels; and
Restaurants

Transportation-Safety Situation 
 
Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Switzerland offers a well-maintained network of roads. Switzerland has four official languages, so travelers should be prepared for the signage to switch languages. 

Swiss highways are toll roads, and it is necessary to purchase an annual "vignette" (40 Swiss Francs), which is affixed to the inside of the windshield. It can be purchased from a gas station, post office, or at any vehicle border crossing.

The minimum driving age is 18. Traffic laws are strictly enforced, and the police can impose on-the-spot fines. For grievous violations, fine can reach up to 10 percent of the driver’s salary. As of January 1, 2014, it is mandatory to drive with headlights on. It is also mandatory for vehicles to have third-party insurance. It is compulsory for all occupants to wear safety belts. When driving in Geneva, trams, police vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, and buses have the right-of-way, and pedestrians have the right-of-way at striped crosswalks.

Local police have the right to perform on-the-spot breathalyzer tests; the BAC limit is .05 grams/liter (approximately one beer). Divers with a BAC between .50-.79 g/l will be charged a fine and could be taken to jail; drivers with BAC higher than .80 g/l could face a fine, being arrested, and the confiscation of their Swiss driver's license for at least three months.

Care must be taken to comply with imposed safety restrictions (maintaining proper distance between vehicles, speed). The maximum speed limit (if not posted) is:
Highway - 120 km/h;
Open road - 80 km/h;
In town - 50 km/h;
In most residential areas - 30 km/h.

Due to limited resources, police prioritize their response to incidents that involve injuries.

As a training tool, you can test your knowledge of Swiss regulations for drivers and cyclists by visiting: http://www.cooldriving.ch/.

Public Transportation Conditions 

Public transportation is considered safe and reliable. 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Geneva International Airport (GVA) is located approximately 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) northwest of the U.S. Mission and is smaller than Zurich International Airport. The airport adheres to international air safety standards, as does management of flight operations. Security measures are on par with U.S. airports. 

Terrorism Threat

Post Terrorism Rating: Medium

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Switzerland has been viewed by extremists as a place for planning, funding, and logistical support for terrorist operations. However, recent attacks across the region have highlighted a new paradigm of terrorist planning and attack execution, all of which authorities are watching closely. The Schengen Agreement allows freer movement between member countries; as a result, border authorities are remaining vigilant in ensuring that Switzerland does not become a safe haven for terrorist organizations. The call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums, or via social media, continues to be a global concern.

In December 2015, the government raised the alert level in Geneva due to reports that extremist were possibly planning to carry out attacks in Geneva or the surrounding areas. The local police increased their presence at major events, landmarks, the airport, train stations, and at the United Nations (Palais). In January 2016, the alert level was reduced to the level prior to December 2015.

Switzerland also has active environmental and animal-extremist organizations that seek to disrupt business operations, sometimes violently, causing property damage to Swiss-based firms. In 2010, an extremist group attempted to detonate a pipe bomb against a multi-national firm that specialized in nano-technology research. Authorities foiled the plot by intercepting several individuals in a vehicle carrying the pipe bomb. The suspects admitted that the intended target was the firm’s campus and that they had intended to cause property damage.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Post Political Violence Rating: Low

Civil Unrest 

Geneva regularly experiences demonstrations, occasionally sparked by U.S. foreign policy and/or global trade issues. Although there have been protests near the U.S. Mission, the majority of the demonstrations are conducted in proximity to the UN, approximately a five-minute walk from the U.S. Mission. Known locations for demonstrations in the Geneva area include:
United Nations;
World Trade Organization (WTO);
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC);
World Economic Forum (WEF);
Israeli Mission to the United Nations;
"Jardin Anglais"/ Mont Blanc Bridge; 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations;
Downtown area of Geneva.

Demonstrations are usually peaceful, but protestors will occasionally block traffic, spray paint graffiti, and burn effigies. All demonstrations must be approved by the police, who deploy tear gas and water cannon to maintain order if necessary. The last violent demonstration took place on December 19, 2015, when approximately 500 demonstrators gathered to protest the Geneva government’s budget plan. Specifically, they wanted more money to be spent on cultural programs. The group spray painted graffiti on buildings, broke store windows, looted merchandise, and caused significant damage to several historic statues and to the walls of the grand theater near the Pace de Neuve in downtown Geneva. The damage was estimated to be several million francs. Prior to this incident, there had not been a violent protest since 2009.

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

There is little religious/ethnic violence in Geneva. Geneva is the second largest city in Switzerland (behind Zurich) and is said to be the most international city in Europe with over 40 percent of its population made up by foreign nationals encompassing 192 nationalities. The number of refugees entering Switzerland has dramatically increased over 2015. Some government estimates indicated that more than 31,000 refugees, primarily from Syria and Eritrea, crossed into Switzerland in 2015. The government anticipates that as many as 6,000 of them will be permanently resettled in Switzerland, with more than 1,200 remaining in the Geneva Canton. To date, there have been no reports of crimes or violence associated with the refugees.  

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Switzerland is internationally recognized as being a leader in response to natural and man-made disasters. In the event of a natural disaster, the commune or the canton takes charge and manages assistance from firemen, police, sanitary services, and civil protection authorities. In case of extreme weather or serious earthquakes, the national alarm center is responsible for sending the alerts of the Swiss Meteorological Office or the Swiss Seismological Service to the affected cantons, the military, the Federal Police, and all other concerned parties. However, resources are limited, and if multiple locations succumb to a disaster, assistance would be requested from other cantons. Earthquakes and floods have occurred in the Valais and Fribourg regions.

Privacy Concerns

Switzerland has very stringent laws protecting personal privacy. However, travelers should always use good security practices when communicating on mobile devices or other electronic media. Travelers should also protect their devices and personal information to avoid potential exploitation.  

Drug-related Crimes

A market for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and synthetic drugs exists within the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. Drug crimes are down in Geneva from 12,061 in 2011 to 9,374 in 2014. They have also declined in Vaud, from 15,789 in 2013 to 12,014 in 2014. 

Kidnapping Threat

No kidnapping statistics were reported in 2014 for either Canton Geneva or Vaud, indicating that kidnapping is not as common as other crimes. Switzerland does not fully comply with the Hague Convention on civil aspects of International Child Abductions. Switzerland has a federal system of government with powerful and independent cantons, which are normally cooperative and responsive; however, there have been problems with the cantonal courts and the child welfare agencies that have sided with a Swiss parent in some parental abduction cases.

Police Response

Switzerland’s police are professional and harassment is rare. Police in the cantons of Geneva and Vaud are highly professional, but their response to requests for assistance may be delayed due to the limited availability of bilingual police officers or lack of severe injuries. 

Crime Victim Assistance

For police assistance, dial 117.  

Medical Emergencies

For medical emergencies, dial 144. 

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

For information regarding hospitals/clinics go to: http://www.cagi.ch/en/practical-info/health-and-security.php?subcat=50

Available Air Ambulance Services

Swiss Air Rescue Rega can be reached by dialing 1414. Rega is a non-profit foundation that operates 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. http://www.rega.ch/

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/Switzerland. 

OSAC Country Council Information

U.S. Mission Geneva and U.S. Embassy Bern are part of the Switzerland Country Council. 

The Points of Contact for Switzerland's OSAC Country Council are:
Geneva: Galen Nace, RSO Geneva, (41) (22) 749-4479, NaceGJ@state.gov 
Bern: Jeff Monroe, RSO Bern, (41) (31) 357-7311, MonroeJR@state.gov 

To reach OSAC’s Europe team, please email OSACEUR@state.gov.

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information 

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Mission Geneva is located at:
Route de Pregny 11
CH-1292 Geneva, Switzerland

Consulate Contact Numbers

If you are a U.S. citizen with and emergency, please call U.S. Embassy Bern at: +41 31 357 70 11 (during business hours) or +41 31 357 77 77 (after business hours, including weekends and holidays).
In case of a lost/stolen passport in Geneva, contact the America Center of Geneva at Tel: +41 22 840 51 60.
Website: http://bern.usembassy.gov/service/locations/consular-agency-geneva.html

Nearby Posts

Embassy Bern: http://bern.usembassy.gov/
U.S. Embassy Bern offers a full range of consular services to U.S. citizens in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Virtual Presence Post Liechtenstein: http://liechtenstein.usvpp.gov/

Consular Guidance

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva does not provide consular services. 

Travelers should be familiar with the Department's latest worldwide cautions, which can be found at: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/worldwide-caution.html.

Tips on how to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

In general, it is recommended that individuals travel in groups; carry only enough money/credit cards to make a purchase; maintain copies of credits cards and identity documents in a safe location; be aware of your surroundings; and avoid suspected trouble.