The Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, says more needs to be done to help refugees integrate in Switzerland.This content was published on June 20, 2004 - 20:23
He was speaking ahead of Refugee Day on Saturday, which was marked by a series of events across the country.
The programme of activities included presentations of traditional music, dance and food.
In a keynote address, Deiss urged the Swiss to respect refugees who flee their homes as a result of persecution.
"Today there are millions of refugees around the world," he said in a speech delivered to mark the annual event.
"Switzerland is a country which welcomes victims of persecution... and when [refugees] search for protection they should be able to look to us."
He also stressed the importance of making refugees feel at home in Switzerland.
“It's possible to achieve a lot by doing very little. A smile on the stairs, a community football game or a cultural exchange are often all that is needed to bring down the barriers,” he said.
Deiss called on refugees to learn one of Switzerland's national languages.
“If you can speak one of our national languages, you will fit into school or find it much easier to get a job."
Deiss also said that refugees should seize the opportunities offered to them, including learning and support programmes.
“Those who look for a new home in our country should be able to integrate into our society,” he said.
The Swiss Refugee Council said that integration programmes should not be restricted to asylum seekers who have been accepted as refugees.
The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, used Refugee Day to call on the cantonal authorities not to crack down on those whose applications for asylum are rejected.
On April 1, the federal authorities stopped providing welfare benefits to rejected asylum seekers as part of a cost-cutting exercise.
It is now the responsibility of the cantons to provide emergency aid – a bed and some food – to failed applicants until they leave the country.
On Sunday, a number of Swiss monuments were bathed in blue light to mark the United Nations-sponsored World Refugee Day.
"All of us need a place to call home – a place where we belong," said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers.
"But for the millions of refugees and displaced people around the world today, home is little more than a distant dream."
The UN body said it dealt with 17.1 million refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people in 2003.
swissinfo with agencies
Recognised refugees in Switzerland at the end of 2003: 24,729.
Asylum seekers provisionally accepted: 24,467.
Asylum seekers waiting for a decision: 41, 272.
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