Initial results indicated that Swiss voters ratified new asylum and immigration laws on Sunday, making it more difficult for refugees to seek refuge in Switzerland and effectively blocking unskilled workers outside Europe from moving to the country.

Recent polls indicate that three in five favour the stricter rules on asylum, which the government has said are necessary to prevent abuses in the system caused by non-refugees finding ways to stay indefinitely in Switzerland.

The law is intended to facilitate easier repatriation of people whose asylum requests have been rejected, allowing the country to devote greater energy and resources to legitimate refugees.

It allows for those refusing to leave despite a rejected application to be denied social welfare.

Adults deemed to be only posing as refugees can be imprisoned for up to two years, and children for one year, even if they are never charged with a crime.

Critics say that the new requirements will close the door on victims of war and persecution around the world who are unable to produce valid identity papers within 48 hours of entering Switzerland as the law demands.

'Unrealistic bill'

They say the bill, passed after heavy campaigning from the right-wing Swiss People's Party and its billionaire leader Christoph Blocher, is unrealistic in expecting rape or torture victims to be able to furnish such papers when fleeing their homes.

Rights groups have said it could lead to violations of international law.

There were 10,061 asylum applications in Switzerland last year, a 30 percent drop compared to figures from 2004, according to the UN refugee agency.

People from Serbia, Turkey, Iraq and Russia are the most frequent to seek refugee status in the country.

Numbers have continued to fall this year, even if Switzerland as a country of 7.4 million people remains in proportion to its population one of the world's top destinations for asylum seekers.