Refugee resettlement significantly delayed

Only 870 refugees from Greece and Italy have been resettled to other countries – and none to Switzerland – despite the European Union’s pledge to distribute some 160,000 refugees in a show of solidarity last year.

This content was published on March 7, 2016 - 17:19
Stefania Summermatter and Duc-Quang Nguyen

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga confirmed a first group of 1,500 refugees will arrive in Switzerland starting this month. Here’s how the resettlement has gone so far.

While EU member countries meet in Brussels as part of their latest summit on the refugee crisis – largely an outgrowth of the five-year-old war in Syria that has killed a quarter million people, displaced half the population and destroyed towns and villages – their resettlement plan hatched last autumn seems to have failed.

Their efforts barely cover two thirds of the contingent of 160,000 refugees that was agreed upon. Some 60,000 still need to be resettled even as 133,000 more arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of the year.

More than 1 million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe last year, fueling the crisis and conflict within the EU over how best to resettle all the people.

More and more countries, not just those in Eastern Europe, are pulling back on their commitments. The show of solidarity has been replaced by unilateral wheeling and dealing, such as in the symbolic closing of borders, laying of blame and threats of exclusion towards Greece, which has increasingly been left to fend for itself.

Most of the arrivals have been by sea, but some also make their way by land mainly through Turkey and Albania. Refugees and migrants headed for Europe also have fled other violent conflicts such as those in Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iraq.

The situation has also been largely blocked in Switzerland so far. Most recently, a spokesperson for the State Secretariat for Migration SEM told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper that “Switzerland will likely take 600 refugees from Greece and 900 from Italy.” Sommaruga, the Swiss justice minister, says they should begin arriving this month.

In October, the Swiss government promised to take 1,500 asylum seekers registered in Italy or Greece – a conflicting show of solidarity considering that number was subtracted from the 3,000 Syrians that should have been sent to Switzerland under another agreement with the United Nations’ refugee agency, known as UNHCR, in Geneva.

The following graphic shows the promises that various European countries have made compared with the number of asylum seekers they have accepted so far. It should be noted that the redistribution figures refer only to refugees fleeing conflict and who have good prospects of being able to stay in Europe – at least a 75% chance, according to figures from Eurostat. Most of those refugees come from Syria, Eritrea and Iraq.

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