Swiss president backs divisive EU refugee deal

A Syrian woman embraces her children after they arrived from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos on a dinghy on September 11 Keystone

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga says the new deal to share 120,000 refugees between most of the countries in the European Union is an “important stage” towards a common European policy of solidarity towards refugees.

This content was published on September 22, 2015 minutes with agencies

Sommaruga was present in Brussels on Tuesday at a meeting of European justice and interior ministers. Switzerland is a member of the European space known as Schengen which enables border-free travel in the EU.

A Swiss justice ministry statement said Sommaruga “was pleased” with the decision by EU ministers to relocate 120,000 refugees among the bloc to ease the strains on frontline nations like Greece and Italy.

But the principle of sharing refugees is extremely divisive and fiercely opposed by several countries in central and eastern Europe. In a highly unusual move that betrayed the deep lack of consensus on the issue, the decision was put to a majority ballot in which the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia all voted against creating a mandatory quota.

The deal on Tuesday did not set mandatory quotas for each nation - one of the most controversial aspects of the proposed plan. 

However, 66,000 people who initially arrived in Italy and Greece will be relocated to other EU states under the plan. An additional 54,000 who arrived later in Italy and Greece will also be relocated. 

Swiss numbers

The number of people to be welcomed to Switzerland has not yet been confirmed.

“We must first look at the criteria and do the calculations,” Sommaruga told journalists on Tuesday, adding that the modalities needed to be discussed with the cantons.

On September 18, Sommaruga announced Switzerland would participate in the EU programme to relocate refugees fleeing the four-year conflict in Syria, as well as increase its financial contribution to international aid organisations. 

Last week she said Switzerland was willing to accept 1,500 refugees on condition they are registered as asylum seekers in neighbouring Italy or in Greece. The contingent is part of a pledge made by Switzerland last March to accept 3,000 people under an international refugee effort.

Sommaruga said the government was also willing to consider up to 5,000 additional refugees over the next two years as long as the Dublin system of handling refugees remained intact.

The State Secretariat for Migration estimates up to 29,000 requests by the end of 2015, according to the finance ministry. 

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