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Blocher proposes apprenticeships for refugees

Refugees could benefit from easier access to training

(Keystone)

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher has proposed an "apprenticeship for refugees" to reduce the number of recognised refugees dependent on social welfare.

The Swiss Refugee Council reacted positively to the suggestion, which comes after parliament voted in favour of tightening asylum legislation.

In an interview published in two Sunday newspapers, Blocher pointed out that only 23 per cent of people living in Switzerland with official refugee status and who are able to work are gainfully employed.

"It appears therefore that our refugees are very poorly integrated, despite all the fine theories and expensive programmes," he said.

To tackle the problem, the justice minister proposes an apprenticeship programme designed for refugees. Training would last between six months and a year and would allow the individual to take on "a simple job adapted to the refugee concerned".

According to Blocher, the state would offer training to refugees in collaboration with businesses.

Good step

Yann Golay, a spokesman for the Swiss Refugee Council, welcomed the proposal. "It's a very good step. It is essential to make access to apprenticeships easier for refugees," he told swissinfo.

"Furthermore, [this plan] would allow us to lessen the burden on the social-welfare system."

However, Golay noted that Blocher's suggestion contrasted somewhat with the decision taken by parliament not to allow certain asylum seekers to stay in Switzerland on humanitarian grounds. This provision would have given more asylum applicants the right to work.

For their part, the centre-left Social Democrats approve of Blocher's idea.

"We welcome anything that improves integration", Hans-Jürg Fehr, president of the Social Democrats, told the SonntagsBlick newspaper.

"It's just strange that the proposal comes from Blocher, when he demanded the opposite for years," he added.

Asked what his next goal was in the area of asylum, Blocher said it was necessary to make cuts in costly administrative structures, without reducing performance.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Last week parliament voted against the introduction of humanitarian admission for asylum applicants, opting instead to work within the provisional admission system.

Rejected applicants who refuse to be repatriated face up to two years in prison and are no longer entitled to social welfare.

Under the revised legislation, Switzerland will refuse in principle to handle applications from asylum seekers without identity papers.

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