Thirty-seven refugees fleeing violence in Syria have arrived in Switzerland as part of a United Nations resettlement programme. This is the second such group to be given special protection in Switzerland.
The seven families – six of Iraqi and one of Palestinian origin – including ten women and 14 children, had fled armed violence in Iraq between 2007-2010 to seek refuge in Syria.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the families had been registered on their resettlement programme as they were particularly in danger. Owing to fighting between the Syrian government and rebel forces, the families had been forced to leave their homes in Damascus and were unable to return to Iraq as they risked persecution.
The new arrivals are the second such group of refugees to be welcomed in Switzerland under the UN resettlement scheme after it took in a family of 36 Syrian refugees last September. In 2012, 1,209 Syrians applied individually for asylum in Switzerland. It is not clear how many were given individual asylum.
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga admitted this new announcement was a “very modest action” but said it offered prospects for those who had lost everything twice.
The new group had received the green light to come to Switzerland last November but their journey had been delayed by the closure of Damascus airport and the fighting. They finally made their way to Lebanon by road and landed at Geneva airport on Friday morning.
Susin Park, head of the Swiss UNHCR office, thanked the Swiss federal, cantonal and communal authorities for welcoming the refugees.
“The resettlement grants those concerned individual protection,” she said in a statement on Friday.
Switzerland has participated in the UNHCR’s resettlement programme since the 1950s. These two groups are the first major refugee quotas accepted by Switzerland since the suspension of the quota policy in 1995 and its formal abandonment in 1998. After the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, many refugees applied for asylum independently.
Since 2005, Switzerland has been accepting small groups of refugees at the request of the UNHCR.
In view of the critical situation in the region and pressures, Park said it was “of utmost importance” that Switzerland rejoined the growing group of states supporting the UN resettlement programme on a regular basis.
An estimated one million refugees have fled Syria to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Around half of the refugees are children, most aged under 11.
Two million of Syria’s 22 million people have also been internally displaced and more than four million need humanitarian assistance, according to the UNHCR. The number leaving the country has increased dramatically since the beginning of the year with more than 400,000 since January 1.
An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in the increasingly sectarian struggle between armed rebels and government soldiers and militias.