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Humanitarian visas Asylum checks tightened on injured Syrians and Iraqis

A Syrian family in a transit centre for asylum seekers in eastern Switzerland in April


The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) plans to examine more carefully certain asylum applications, in particular those by people applying for a humanitarian visa who were injured in Syria and Iraq.

“In future the SEM will conduct in-depth investigations on the spot,” spokeswoman Léa Wertheimer told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

She did not elaborate, but the newspaper assumed the migration office would be focusing on weeding out applications made by fighters, members and supporters of the Islamic State terrorist group as well as potential war criminals and other offenders. Humanitarian visas for these individuals would be rejected.

Among the Syrians and Iraqis currently applying for asylum or a humanitarian visaexternal link in Switzerland are a striking number of people injured in war, a person with knowledge of the situation told the NZZ am Sonntag. However, there are no official statistics.


Wertheimer said the state secretariat for migration had decided last week to take these measures, having suspended giving out any humanitarian visas to citizens from Syria or Iraq for around two months. Since the tightening of controls, they have begun granting the corresponding visas again.

The suspension had been triggered by applications from injured Syrians, some of whom had spent time in the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece.

Since the beginning of the year 920 Syrians have applied for a humanitarian visa in Switzerland, according to migration office figures. Most were made through Switzerland’s diplomatic representations in Turkey and Lebanon.

Of the 920 applications, 706 were approved (77%) and 214 rejected for various reasons.

In addition, since the beginning of the year 1,238 Syrians had applied for asylum: 76% have been granted temporary asylum or given refugee status. The corresponding figure for Iraqis is just 18%.

No figures were provided for the number of humanitarian visas granted to Iraqis.

Visa facilitation programmes

A humanitarian visa can be issued if someone is “seriously and concretely under a direct threat to life and limb”, according to the Swiss Refugee Council. The person must be in a “special emergency situation”. This can entail acts of war or direct individual endangerment.

In connection with the war in Syria, the cabinet approved two visa facilitation programmes. One ran from September to November 2013 and saw around 4,800 Syrians enter Switzerland on a humanitarian visa.

The second, focusing on spouses and young children of Syrians already accepted temporarily by Switzerland, has been running since March 2015. Some 230 Syrians have so far benefited from this.

Because a humanitarian visa entitles the receivers to stay in Switzerland for a limited period, most subsequently apply for asylum.

Anyone can apply for asylum – protection from persecution – in Switzerland, but applicants must prove or at least credibly demonstrate their refugee status.

According to the Swiss Asylum Act, refugees are people who, among other conditions “in their native country or in their country of last residence are subject to serious disadvantages or have a well-founded fear of being exposed to such disadvantages for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or due to their political opinions”.

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