Afghan refugee numbers pick up in Switzerland

Swiss border police have picked up increasing numbers of Afghan refugees entering illegally in recent months. © Keystone / Olivier Maire

The Swiss authorities do not expect a large influx of Afghan refugees despite a recent rise in the number of people crossing the border in recent months, mostly illegally.

This content was published on November 11, 2021 minutes

The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) calculates that more than 1,500 Afghan refugees have entered Switzerland this year, with numbers picking up substantially since August – the month the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

But most refugees are believed to have fled Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover and have spent time travelling to Europe and staying in other countries before arriving in Switzerland.

Most of the new arrivals have entered via the eastern canton of St Gallen, which borders Austria. Police picked up 632 refugees in October and 446 the previous month, according to official statistics. In April, the number was 54.

Many of the new arrivals are minors and officials believe they are attempting to transit to other countries given the low number of refugees claiming asylum in Switzerland.

Some Swiss media outlets speculate that the recent influx could be the result of rumours among refugees that Austria will not let them stay – which the Austrian authorities deny.

The Swiss authorities are coordinating with Austrian counterparts to send refugees that arrived illegally in Switzerland back to Austria.

The phenomenon has prompted the rightwing Swiss People’s Party to demand that the government takes action.

In response, SEM says it does not expect Afghan refugee numbers to increase substantially in the short-term, but to pick up at a more sustainable rate over the next few years.

In August, ministers said there are no plans to accept large numbers of Afghan refugees into Switzerland.

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