Japan disaster defuses refugee debate

Events in Japan have not only knocked concerns about North African refugees off the front pages but also resulted in a relatively restrained parliamentary debate.

This content was published on March 16, 2011 - 14:06 and agencies

Nevertheless, politicians in the House of Representatives succeeded on Wednesday in landing several punches on their opponents.

Those on the left accused those on the right and the government of courting and supporting dictators in North Africa and the Middle East by selling them arms.

“It’s a disgrace that Switzerland has delivered weapons to Arab dictators,” said Josef Lang from the Green Party.

Hans-Jürg Fehr, from the centre-left Social Democratic Party, turned to Switzerland’s banking laws and demanded “an export ban for weapons and an import ban for dictators’ assets”.

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party quickly cried hypocrisy. “For years the socialists in this chamber sat as members of the International Socialists alongside Ben Ali and Mubarak [former presidents of Tunisia and Egypt]. Have they no shame?” wondered Alfred Heer.

The People’s Party also said the government’s refugee policy had failed, but refrained from overly harsh words. “We need to wait and see what happens in Libya,” Hans Fehr said.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey denied Switzerland was in danger of being overrun by refugees from North Africa or the Middle East. She explained that the government was currently focusing on providing emergency aid, adding that in the medium term the reconstruction of civil society would need support.

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