Switzerland should grant more Syrians full refugee status rather than just temporary residency, a top official from the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) has declared.
In an interview in Sunday’s NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, Anja Klug, UNHCR’s representative for Switzerland, criticised the fact that most Syrians allowed to stay in Switzerland were only given temporary residency.
“Switzerland is applying a much too restrictive policy towards Syrian asylum-seekers,” Klug declared.
She said only 35% of Syrians are officially given refugee status by the Swiss authorities, while this percentage rises to 70% on average in other European countries.
“The people who are only given temporary residency have to deal with the risk that they might be sent back to Syria from Switzerland at any given time,” she said, adding that this leads to feelings of insecurity for refugees.
These sentiments are exacerbated by the fact that family members are often not allowed to follow them to Switzerland, they have restricted access to the labour market and they cannot leave Swiss territory, she said.
This situation is a “disastrous signal” for the Swiss population, which gives the impression that Syrian asylum-seekers are not at all under threat and do not need protection, she told NZZ.
Since the war began four years ago, Switzerland has taken in around 9,000 Syrian refugees. About half this number were able to come to Switzerland thanks to a temporary relaxation of entry conditions.
On Friday, Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga said Switzerland would participate in a European Union programme to relocate refugees fleeing the four-year conflict in Syria, as well as increase its financial contribution to international aid organisations.
In a first step, Switzerland said it would accept 1,500 refugees on condition they are registered as asylum seekers in neighboring 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.
EU leaders, deeply divided, are due to meet on Wednesday in a fresh attempt to agree on how and where to distribute 160,000 refugees among their countries.
The government has decided to increase its financial contribution by CHF70 million ($73.3 million) to help displaced people in the region and to boost long-term development projects. So far Switzerland has granted CHF198 million in aid to countries affected by the conflict in Syria.
swissinfo.ch with agencies