Around 1500 people gathered on the Rütli Meadow above Lake Lucerne on Saturday to mark National Refugee Day.This content was published on June 15, 2002 - 18:28
Organisers of the event said the choice of venue - Rütli is the place where Switzerland's forefathers founded the Swiss Confederation in 1291 - was intended as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the country's refugee community.
"The Rütli is the central heart of Switzerland and has a very important meaning to all Swiss," said Jürg Schertenleib, spokesman for the Swiss Refugee Council.
"We want to show with this celebration that we really think refugees belong to us, are part of our society and should not be marginalized," he added.
Hundreds of guests
The Swiss Refugee Council, which coordinated the weekend celebrations, invited more than 500 refugees and asylum seekers, together with a number of Swiss politicians and representatives drawn from different sectors of Swiss society.
Delegations from Switzerland's cantons joined representatives from Tibetan, Czech, Hungarian and Tamil communities at a ceremony punctuated by a series of keynote addresses.
The director of the Federal Office for Refugees, Jean-Daniel Gerber, read out a special message sent by the Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler.
"Together we must find a just way," Metzler said, "to allow people in need of protection to find a harbour in Switzerland, and also to give anyone who no longer needs this protection the opportunity to return to their homeland with dignity."
Georg Kreis, president of the Federal Commission Against Racism, said the focus of refugee day should be on how to improve relations between Swiss citizens and asylum seekers.
"It is not a question of loving each other, but of respecting each other, and of recognising our differences," Kreis said.
Thousands seek asylum
The Swiss Refugee Council estimates that there are currently more than 100,000 asylum seekers living in Switzerland.
"We want to show that we belong together...and that it's only in this way that we can win the game of protecting refugees," Schertenlieb told swissinfo.
"Switzerland should stick to its humanitarian tradition and we want to fight together so that the protection of refugees can be continued in the future."
Schertenleib says around 10,000 people have lodged applications for asylum so far this year.
"This is more or less average if you compare it with figures from the last few years," Schertenlieb says.
National Refugee Day was also marked in other parts of the country with a series of special events and demonstrations.
In the city of Basel, more than 1000 people staged a peaceful demonstration under the banner "Nobody is illegal".
swissinfo with agencies
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