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Return to the homeland

Argentina's severe economic crisis has prompted many to flee the country

(Keystone)

Hundreds of Argentinians of Swiss descent are making their way to Switzerland to escape the severe economic crisis in Argentina.

The bulk of them are heading for Zurich or Geneva and are forced to depend on social welfare when they arrive.

More than 400 people with dual Argentinian-Swiss nationality have left the South American country this year, returning to the land of their parents and grandparents.

Between 1850 and 1940, 40,000 Swiss, mainly from poor farming families, emigrated to Argentina in search of a better life - and now there is a reverse migration.

"For people of dual nationality, Switzerland is very attractive in these difficult times," Nicoletta Regazzi Pfeiffer, head of the social department of the Swiss embassy in Buenos Aires, told swissinfo.

"But many know neither the land nor the people," she added.

Almost 15,000 people of dual nationality live in Argentina; more and more of them are looking to escape to Switzerland by the day.

Peso depreciation

Argentina's four-year recession has been taking its toll. It has left one in five people jobless and half of the country's 36 million inhabitants below the poverty line.

The government's decision at the beginning of 2002 to devalue the peso by about 40 per cent proved a disaster for the population.

The peso has plummeted against the Swiss franc, which has had a catastrophic effect on dual nationals, especially in the case of pensions.

Whereas the Swiss state pension is obligatory for those living in Switzerland, the Swiss abroad are given the option whether to participate.

But the minimum yearly contribution of SFr756 is proving too expensive for many in Argentina, where the amount corresponds to the annual salary of a primary school teacher.

If the pension contribution is not paid for two years, the person is rejected from the system.

Pension crisis

Rudolf Wyder, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, believes that one possible solution to the problem could be the deferral of pension contributions until Argentina's economy improves.

The government has ruled out any blanket measures in this regard, and said cases would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

The government made its position clear on Monday in response to a question from two parliamentarians.

Most of the emigrants to Argentina settled in Buenos Aires, but some also made their homes in Pampa Santa Fés or in the Cordoba region.

Swiss ex-pats also settled in the border triangle between Paraguay and Brazil.

Thousands of German-speaking Swiss went to the jungle area in the northern province of Missiones where many are now destitute.

swissinfo, Peter Salvisberg and Sergio Regazzoni

Key facts

More than 400 people with dual Argentinian-Swiss nationality have left Argentina this year.
Between 1850 and 1940, 40,000 Swiss, emigrated to Argentina.
Almost 15,000 people of dual nationality live in Argentina.

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