Switzerland is preparing to take a batch of 200 asylum seekers from Italy under the terms of a European Union deal to relieve the stress on southern Europe, Swiss public television SRF has revealed.
Migration officials are currently reviewing the 200 cases of Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean people who have claimed asylum in Italy. “If all checks are successfully completed then these asylum seekers may enter in September,” Lea Wertheimer, spokeswoman for the State Secretariat for Migration told SRF.
Switzerland has pledged to receive a total of 900 people from Italy and 600 from Greece, Wertheimer added. So far, only 34 asylum seekers have been accepted from Italy.
Under the terms of the Dublin agreement, of which Switzerland is a signatory, asylum seekers are the responsibility of the EU state in which they first applied. Other countries can send asylum seekers back to the original state in which they were registered. This policy prevents multiple asylum applications in different countries by the same person.
But a recent increase in the numbers of refugees arriving in Europe from Africa and the Middle East has brought the EU’s asylum system to a standstill. At the peak of the crisis, Italy and Greece were receiving thousands of new arrivals every day – a situation neither country was able to cope with.
Last September, EU member states (along with Switzerland) thrashed out an agreement to redistribute 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece throughout Europe.
According to European Commission figures, the redistribution plan has been moved slowly in its first year. By August 22, just 12,990 places had been made available in Europe for the 160,000 refugees with only 3,977 people physically transferring from either Italy or Greece.
In July, the Swiss and Italian authorities agreed to enhance cooperation at the border region, boosting border controls and setting up joint patrols on trains.
Swiss guards on the Italian border turned away 4,149 people who had either already applied for asylum in other countries or did not have papers with them.
In order to cope with the numbers of refugees being sent back, Italy has built an emergency camp in the town of Como, near to the border, that can accommodate 300 people.
swissinfo.ch with agencies