Swiss accept quota of refugees, also from Syria

The situation at refugee camps in countries surrounding Syria has reached dramatic proportions Keystone

The government has decided to take in 500 particularly vulnerable refugees over the next three years. A first group of people fleeing the conflict in Syria is expected to arrive in Switzerland next month.

This content was published on September 4, 2013 - 16:01

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said women, children, disabled or old people as well as those suffering from persecution would be among the refugee group.

She also said she decided to facilitate reunions of Syrians already living in Switzerland with other members of their families.

However, she refused to announce further details on the exact number of refugees or their nationalities.

“It is not about high figures,” Sommaruga told a news conference on Wednesday.

The Federal Migration Office is considering a request by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Sommaruga stressed it was important to help the refugees adapt to their new environment. The government seeks to support the cantonal authorities with CHF12 million ($12.8 million) for integration projects. The measures are to be re-evaluated at the end of the three-year trial period.

Sommaruga added she was determined to go through with the programme, despite expected opposition from the political right in parliament.

Switzerland has already taken in two groups of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria – around 70 people – over the past 18 months.

Facts and figures

More than two million people have now fled Syria’s civil war, most of them to neighbouring countries, the UN says.

Another 4.25 million people have been displaced inside Syria.

The war has killed more than 100,000 people over the past 30 months.

Switzerland has taken in more than 70 UNHCR refugees from the Syrian conflict since 2012.

The Solidarity Chain, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, has collected CHF13 million for the aid projects benefiting victims of the Syrian civil war.

End of insertion

UNHCR contingents

Switzerland took part in UNHCR resettlement programmes during the second half of the last century, notably for refugees from Hungary, Tibet and the former Czechoslovakia. But in 2005 parliament decided to stop Swiss participation for financial reasons.

Sommaruga said Switzerland had a history of accepting contingents of UNHCR refugees and the cabinet made involvement in long-term resettlement activities a priority for this year. “I want to resume this tradition,” she said.

She added that the latest move was not limited to refugees from the conflict in Syria. She mentioned the Democratic Republic of Congo or countries at the Horn of Africa as other examples.

The government would cooperate with other Western European countries as well as cantonal and local authorities in Switzerland to provide shelter for refugees, according to Sommaruga.

Asylum seekers

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party has criticised the government decision. It said Switzerland should limit its involvement to help in the region.

Switzerland had enough trouble with the high number of asylum seekers, a statement said. The party also warned of Sommaruga’s move to ease family reunions for Syrian nationals.

The UNHCR for its part welcomed the decision by the government. “It is an important signal for the European and international protection of refugees,” a statement said.

“The need for assistance for these refugees is enormous,“ said Susin Park, head of the UNHCR office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, in a reaction on Wednesday.

“With its humanitarian initiative Switzerland not only offers the affected refugees protection in a safe country, but also sends an important signal of solidarity to Syrian’s neighbouring countries.”

There are presently about 1,600 Syrians with regular residence permits living in Switzerland, according to the Federal Migration Office.

The total number of requests for asylum by Syrians had reached about 3,200 by the end of July this year. Nearly half ot them were granted asylum, most of them on a temporary basis. 

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