The first group of refugees that Switzerland will take in as part of the European Union’s refugee relocation programme will be made up of 30 people, it has been confirmed. The asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea and Syria, are currently in Italy.
These 30 people are a “pilot group”, Martin Reichlin, spokesman for the State Secretariat for Migration told the Swiss News Agency on Sunday, confirming information that had appeared in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.
The group will be accepted as part as the European refugee relocation programme, agreed in September 2015, to which Switzerland has signed up as a voluntary participant.
The country has said that it is prepared to take up to 1,500 refugees, on condition they are registered as asylum seekers in neighbouring Italy or in Greece.
Overall, the EU wants 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 has been extremely divisive and opposed by several countries in central and eastern Europe. The deal therefore does not set mandatory quotas for each nation.
Date still unknown
“We expect the 30 refugees to arrive around mid-April but we do not know the exact date,” Reichlin said. “It could be in a week’s time or in four weeks’ time."
The group is made up of asylum seekers who reached Italy via the Mediterranean and most of them come from Eritrea or Syria, he added. Applicants from these countries have a 75% chance or higher of gaining protected status across the EU, Reichlin explained.
As soon as they arrive, they will go through the Swiss asylum process as normal, he added.
The Swiss cabinet has said that it would be prepared to take in a second group of refugees, as long as the EU agrees on quotas as part of a further relocation programme. The timetable for this is not yet known. The Swiss may accept 4,500-5,000 refugees, according to the Swiss News Agency.
Swiss response criticised
On Monday, the Swiss charity Caritas issued a statement criticising the Swiss government's aid to Syria. The government has pledged CHF50 million ($52 million) per year in aid so far, but Caritas director Hugo Fasel said that was insufficient, arguing that twice as much is needed.
Fasel also said the Swiss should pledge to take in more Syrian refugees, saying that the government needed to come up with more solutions to support communities who are accommodating them.
"These people are simply fighting to survive," Fasel said of the refugees. "Fleeing is their only option."
swissinfo.ch and agencies