Press release of 11 December 2018

Parliamentarians and HEKS/EPER call for additional humanitarian relief for refugees and temporarily admitted persons

In late November the Federal Council proposed that Switzerland should admit an additional 800 particularly vulnerable refugees from Syria in the year ahead. It furthermore proposes that a programme should be approved every two years for the admission of altogether 1500 to 2000 refugees in need of protection. The Federal Council's proposal aims fundamentally in the right direction, but falls short given the persisting worldwide refugee crisis. Besides raising the admission quota, additional humanitarian relief is needed for refugees and temporarily admitted persons. National Councillors Lisa Mazzone (Greens, GE) and Rosemarie Quadranti (BDP, ZH) will therefore be introducing the relevant parliamentary procedural requests in the course of the current winter session.

The Federal Council's latest proposal is not least of all a reaction to the demands formulated in the petition for «Safe and legal escape routes into Switzerland». It was jointly submitted by Swiss Church Aid (HEKS/EPER) and the Swiss Refugee Council (SRC) at the end of June 2018 with over 38,000 signatures. Today there are more than 68 million refugees on the move throughout the world. According to UNHCR, some 1.2 million of them need to be resettled in a safe third country. The real need for resettlement admissions is therefore significantly greater than the admission quota of 1500 to 2000 people being envisaged by the Federal Council.
HEKS fordert weitere humanitäre Erleichterungen für Flüchtlinge und vorläufig Aufgenommene
Corina Flühmann

For HEKS/EPER Director Peter Merz, it is therefore clear: «The Federal Council's proposal must doubtless be seen as basically positive. With its long-standing humanitarian tradition, however, Switzerland bears special responsibility and can provide protection to considerably more refugees than the numbers proposed by the Federal Council.»

For Syrian refugees in particular it is now virtually impossible to gain access to a fair asylum procedure in a European country. Instead, thousands of them are being held under appalling conditions at internment camps in Libya, where they face the most egregious human rights violations. «By further increasing the quota we can go some way towards freeing such highly vulnerable refugees from their untenable situation and offering them protection and new prospects in Switzerland», says Peter Merz.

Facilitated humanitarian visas

Zurich National Councillor Rosemarie Quadranti (BDP) takes a similar line with her parliamentary procedural request for a facilitated humanitarian visa. Such visas should enable people whose lives are in danger to enter Switzerland legally. A humanitarian visa that would have to be applied for in person at a Swiss representation is a flexible instrument that could complement traditional resettlement programmes in a rapid and cost efficient manner. But Rosemarie Quadranti qualifies the matter somewhat: «The third country rule hampers the meaningful application of this instrument, as it fails to recognize two facts. First, people whose lives are threatened in their own country must often flee to a third country. Second, in many instances there is no longer a Swiss representation in their war-torn home countries. This makes it impossible for people whose lives are at risk to apply for a visa locally. The Federal Council must therefore simplify the criteria for humanitarian visas so that people whose lives are in danger can also apply for such visas from third countries.»

Petition für sichere und legale Fluchtwege in die Schweiz
Press release: March 2018
Switzerland must assume its humanitarian responsibility

Never before have so many people been forced to flee their country to escape warfare, violence and persecution. Many of them are compelled to attempt the perilous journey to Europe. With its long-standing humanitarian tradition, Switzerland bears special responsibility to offer protection to more refugees then it has up to now.

The right to family for temporarily admitted persons as well

Many refugees who reach Switzerland often via perilous routes have been separated from their loved ones along the way – entire families are torn apart en route. HEKS/EPER Director Peter Merz knows from his years of professional experience that: «Being separated from one's own family is a heavy emotional burden.» Geneva National Councillor Lisa Mazzone (Greens) makes clear in this connection: «The right to family is enshrined in the Swiss Federal Constitution.» In future, this should apply not only for recognized refugees, who are already permitted to have their family join them in Switzerland as soon as they receive a positive asylum decision. Temporarily admitted persons, in contrast, may be joined by their spouses and children under 18 years of age in Switzerland only after three years at the earliest. «But even after that time, family reunification for temporarily admitted persons is still seriously hampered by considerable financial hurdles. And this jeopardizes these people's basic constitutional right to family», says Lisa Mazzone. With her procedural request she therefore aims to task the Federal Council, inter alia, with adapting the financial criteria associated with family reunification for temporarily admitted persons such that the right to family life is also guaranteed for job seekers and low-income refugees.

Switzerland as an example

The two National Councillors will be tabling their procedural requests in the current winter session of the Federal Chambers. HEKS/EPER Director Peter Merz is grateful for the parliamentary support of the demands already submitted to the Federal Council by HEKS/EPER and the SRC in their petition of June 2018. «I hope that this will enable us to improve the situation of refugees and temporarily admitted persons substantially. That would be an important indication of Switzerland's readiness to continue to play its exemplary role in humanitarian matters in the future.»

Dieter Wüthrich
Head of Media and Information Department
Dieter Wüthrich

Phone: +41 44 360 88 66
Mobile: +41 76 461 88 70
E-mail: dieter.wuethrich@heks.ch