Up to 60,000 Ukrainians could seek refuge in Switzerland

Around 60 people who fled the war in Ukraine are staying at the Pestalozzi centre in Trogen, in canton Appenzell Outer-Rhodes, March 10, 2022. © Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller

Between 50,000-60,000 Ukrainians could seek protection in Switzerland following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the Swiss justice minister.

This content was published on March 11, 2022 minutes

Karin Keller-Sutter told Blick TV on Thursday that it was hard to give precise estimates on the number of Ukrainians who may travel to Switzerland as it depends on how long the fighting continues. But up to 60,000 could arrive, she said.

This is a “very big challenge” for our country, said Keller-Sutter.

So far, some 2,100 Ukrainians have registered with Swiss authorities since the outbreak of war on February 24. Around two-thirds of them are currently housed in federal asylum centres; the other third are staying in private households.

The reception of Ukrainians fleeing the war will certainly not be without difficulties, said the minister. “There may be mistakes and shortcomings. All refugees will have to be registered. In addition to accommodation by the federal government and the cantons, private help will be needed,” she said. “This may take a long time.”

On Monday, the government said it had allocated 5,000 places in Swiss federal asylum centres for people fleeing the war.

S permit

The Swiss government has also announced plans to activate a special S permitExternal link for people affected by the war in Ukraine who are in need of emergency protection – a permit that would allow them to live and work in Switzerland for a year, with an option to extend if necessary. The government will make a final decision on the details on Friday. The protection status "S" was created following the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s but it was never used.  

The Ukrainian community in Switzerland is relatively small compared to other countries. There are around 11,000 people with Ukrainian nationality living in the Alpine country.

Since the beginning of the war, over 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The majority of refugees, around 1.5 million people, have travelled to Poland.

UNHCR estimates that between 10-15 million people will be displaced by the war, out of a population of 44 million. The UNHCR head, Filippo Grandi, said it was the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

Keller-Sutter said there was only one way out of the crisis, she said: “Mr Putin”. “President [Vladimir] Putin has the power to end this war at any time," she told Blick TV.

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