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Champion of refugees dies

Cornelius Koch spent three decades campaigning on behalf of refugees Keystone

A well-known Catholic priest, Cornelius Koch, who devoted much of his life to championing the cause of refugees, immigrants and social outcasts, has died at the age of 61. He made a name for himself as advocate of an open-minded Switzerland.

A non-governmental refugee group, CEDRI, said Koch died on Tuesday after suffering from a short illness. The group said Koch was a vocal advocate of improving the lot of immigrants, who face expulsion from Switzerland.

Koch was born in Romania, grew up in Switzerland and following studies in Switzerland, France and Italy, became a Catholic priest in 1968. His involvement in politics began in the early 1970s, when hundreds of people from Chile sought refuge in Switzerland.

Despite opposition from the federal authorities, he brought some 3,000 Chileans, who had fled the military rule of General Augusto Pinochet, to Switzerland.

Koch also became a prominent advocate for Tamil and Kurdish refugees in Switzerland. In 1986 he co-founded a centre for refugees near the Swiss/Italian border. More recently he campaigned on behalf of foreigners seeking residency and the right to work.

Two years ago Koch spearheaded a protest against a perceived swing to the far right in Swiss politics.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR