Switzerland has accepted 19 North African refugees from Malta, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommeruga told Swiss radio on Friday. The transfer marks the first time Switzerland has taken refugees as part of the "Eurema" initiative.
Although the refugees arrived in Switzerland in April, their presence has not been made public until now. “Eurema” is a European Union programme intended to distribute North African refugees who have landed on the island of Malta among European countries.
Switzerland agreed to take a share of the refugees in need even though it is not part of the European Union “out of solidarity with Malta”, according to the Swiss Federal Migration Office.
The refugees were originally from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan and were specifically selected to go to Switzerland. Eleven of them had relatives in Switzerland and were brought to live near them. One ended up in Liechtenstein and the rest were distributed among various Swiss cantons.
Switzerland assumed all of the travel costs for the refugees, who entered the country not as asylum seekers but with refugee status under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
However, the UN agency has emphasised that because these refugees entered Switzerland as part of the Eurema initiative, their relocation was not part of the formal UNHCR resettlement programme.