Commuters, commerce, and cash: a visit to Chiasso

Chiasso is a the first stop in the canton of Ticino on the rail line from Italy. Like many border towns, Chiasso thrives on cross-border tourists, commuters, or shoppers. And occasionally there are smugglers there too, trying to bring back cash from a struggling euro zone economy. WRS’s Tony Ganzer stood on the border with the Swiss border guards, to get a feel for what the priorities are on the edge of the confederation.

GANZER: Here at the southern edge of Chiasso is a border checkpoint. Of course, multiple Swiss customs officials standing on the Swiss side, you have the same on the Italian side. The respective country flags waving in a slight breeze on a cloudy day. This border checkpoint, like many others, is multiple lanes, cars coming through, most of them just waved on by. But officials every once in a while do find something interesting. On the Italian side, every once in a while, you hear stories of people who smuggle large amounts of a cash or perhaps a ton of gold in secret compartments in their car. This is noteworthy, but smuggling in general is nothing new for Chiasso and Switzerland.

BASSI: “This kind of work is not so easy.”

Davide Bassi is spokesmen for the Swiss border guards here. He explains how safeguarding the borders works in Ticino.

(Rough transcript follows)

BASSI: “The question is always the same: did you have anything to declare? With the answer we research to comprehend what happen. If these people it’s good people, if they tell me the truth, or something else. Then we begin to control about the things, about the value, about maybe they are criminal and we need the control to check the passport, the identity. It’s not the same in Italy. The Italian colleague they can’t do everything. The Guardia di Finanza they could check the things about the money, about the financial. And the police can do the control only about the document. And the Carabinieri do the things about immigration, for example. And in Switzerland it’s something different. We have only a border guard. One man can do three different jobs.”

GANZER: “A lot of times when we hear ‘Chiasso,’ it’s often from Italian police talking about finding things on the border. Every once in a while we hear about money, we hear about gold. But what are the things you look for on the Swiss side? What are some of the challenges you look for, people bringing things back into Switzerland?”

BASSI: “We have three important items we are looking for: it’s the security of the people. Second one is the immigration. Last one is the products coming in Switzerland: the meat, alcohol, something to eat, something to drink, these kind of things. About the money we don’t have any limit, we can bring in Switzerland what we want. But it’s clear that we, like border guard, we must be sure these people are normal people not criminal or something else.”

Davide Bassi

GANZER: “Switzerland has no limits on what you can bring in, or bring out in terms of an amount of money, but you do check the people to make sure that it’s legal money?”

BASSI: “Yes, in my opinion at the end the problem is not the money, it’s the people who are bringing this money.”

GANZER: “I know you don’t want to talk about the politics going on in the Euro Zone now, but can you talk about just the numbers of people who have been flowing from one side to the other?”

BASSI: “In the past it was just a little bit different. We had many people are going into Italy to buy the different things and back to Switzerland. But now it’s something different. We have the possibility to buy the same things like in Italy also at the same price. That means that now we have fewer people that are just crossing the border to go to Italy to buy one liter of wine—it’s not so interesting.”

GANZER: “Just finally here, standing on the border with Italy and Ticino, Switzerland, is there anything you think people should know about life here on the border? Working on the border?”

BASSI: “In my experience I think that many Swiss people don’t know exactly what we do every day, 365 days each year on the street. We don’t do only the check about the things, about alcohol or meat, but we check the people. And at the end our job is really a filter for different things and people that come into Switzerland maybe to do something wrong.”

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