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UNHCR asks Switzerland to take in more Afghan refugees

Girl refugee
An Afghan girl, one of 41 refugees, boards an airplane in Greece bound for Portugal on Tuesday. Keystone / Yannis Kolesidis

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has sent a letter to Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis asking Switzerland to accept more people fleeing Afghanistan.

In the letter, sent on Wednesday, Filippo Grandi asked the government to accept additional Afghan refugees, within the framework of resettlement, who have fled or would flee under their own steam to neighbouring countries Pakistan and Iran or even Turkey, UNHCR Switzerland said on Thursday.

Switzerland was not the only country Grandi had written to, it said. Similar requests had also been sent to EU countries.

The aim is to improve burden-sharing, according to UNHCR Switzerland. The need for help is much greater than the capacity in the countries of first reception, it said.

The foreign ministry confirmed to the Swiss News Agency Keystone-SDA that it had received a letter signed by Grandi “concerning Afghanistan”. However, it did not want to comment on the content.

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Swiss quota

In August Switzerland agreed to take in about 230 Afghan refugees but hesitated when asked to increase this quota.

“We have to be realistic,” Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said on August 18. “Providing help on the ground and ensuring the evacuation of Swiss nationals and local employees of the Swiss development agency take priority for the government.”

She said the government would examine additional asylum requests on a case-by-case basis, and she didn’t rule out the approval of a larger refugee contingent at a later stage.

The 230 Afghan refugees – local employees of the Swiss development agency and their families – are part of a total annual contingent of 800 vulnerable people from conflicts around the world to be granted asylum in Switzerland this year.

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