The Swiss government has decided against receiving further refugees from Iraq, contrary to the wishes of the Geneva-based UN refugee agency (UNHCR).This content was published on May 17, 2007 - 14:07
Government spokesman Oswald Sigg said that Bern "refused to accept new Iraqi refugees", preferring to help displaced Iraqi people on the spot.
Justice and Police Minister Christoph Blocher told French-language Swiss radio other European countries had also decided that accepting contingents of refugees was no solution to the problem.
"We already have 5,000 Iraqis in Switzerland and our country is in second place in Europe in accepting them," he commented.
A Geneva member of the Swiss House of Representatives, Carlo Sommaruga of the Social Democratic Party, was angered by the cabinet decision.
"It is shocking to see the government lock the doors in the face of such a large crisis," he said.
He added that Blocher was brandishing the threat of a massive arrival of Iraqis in Switzerland, at a time when the UNHCR was talking of responding to a call to accept "minorities" who had not been able to go into refugee camps.
Switzerland announced in April at a UNHCR conference in Geneva that it was doubling its humanitarian aid to displaced Iraqi people and refugees to SFr4 million ($3.27 million).
During the meeting, the refugee agency called on rich countries to receive 20,000 "very vulnerable" Iraqis.
These included people traumatised by the violence in the country, those who had been tortured, women and abandoned children.
The conference agreed on the "urgent need" to aid nearly four million people who had fled to neighbouring countries or elsewhere inside Iraq.
The non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council urged the Swiss authorities to renew a humanitarian programme to help alleviate the crisis.
"We appeal to the Swiss government to accept a regular contingent of Iraqi refugees from Iraq's neighbouring countries," a statement said.
The council added that Switzerland had the necessary capacity to take in more displaced people from Iraq as the number of asylum seekers from Balkan countries has decreased significantly.
Between 1950 and 1995 Switzerland regularly accepted a few hundred Iraqi refugees at the request of the UN refugee agency. But the policy was suspended later in an effort to give priority to asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia.
swissinfo with agencies
Up to 50,000 people leave Iraq every month, according to the UN refugee agency.
Two million Iraqis have fled abroad and another 1.9 million are internally displaced people.
Switzerland has taken in about 5,000 Iraqi refugees.
On May 3, Bern announced that Iraqi asylum seekers from three northern provinces, under a Kurdish regional administration, should be sent home.
The Federal Migration Office said that this was "reasonable" because the three areas were not experiencing general violence.
On May 9, a truck exploded in Erbil, capital of the Kurdish regional government, in the north of the country.
Four days later, a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into offices of a political party in Makhmur, 50 kilometres south of Erbil, killing 45 people and injuring 115 others.
Iraqi asylum seekers in Switzerland wanting to return home have since 2003 been able to take part in an aid programme supported by the International Organization for Migration.
Out of 550 people registered for the programme, 470 have left Switzerland.
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