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Experts call for change in Swiss refugee policy

Francis Matthey, president of the advisory committee, outlined the aims of the panel Keystone

A government advisory committee has called for the reintroduction of quotas for refugees in line with United Nations recommendations.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) wants wealthier countries to agree in advance to take in specific numbers of refugees who have not found a permanent place of refuge.

Until the late 1990s Switzerland took part in the system, but abandoned it when huge numbers of refugees fleeing the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia started arriving. They far outnumbered the refugees that had been accepted by quota.

The quota system would not apply to people who come to Switzerland directly, and not through a third country.

Most of the refugees who have not found a permanent place of refuge are waiting in neighbouring countries. One example are displaced people from the Sudanese region of Darfur, who are currently living in Chad.

The Federal Commission on Migration announced on Tuesday that it was preparing a report on the issue for Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.

“It is not as if Switzerland is saying that it won’t go back to the system,” the commission’s Elspeth Steiner told swissinfo.

The justice minister pledged that she would decide future policy on the basis of the commission’s findings.


Earlier this month Widmer-Schlumpf met the Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, who also pressed her to return Switzerland to the system.

She responded by saying that Switzerland grants refugee status to people who have been persecuted but wanted to combat abuse of the asylum system.

Widmer-Schlumpf is expected to adopt the recommendations of the commission.

“If we didn’t think it had a chance of getting through we wouldn’t be looking at it,” Steiner said.

“We have to look at which refugees should be covered and how many there should be. There are a number of models and a working group from our commission is looking at them.”

Working groups

The working group will be meeting experts involved in the reception of refugees, in particular the cantons, which are given a lump sum to look after the refugees but who have to decide what kind of people they are prepared to take.

“Will they be healthy ones, who integrate easily? Will they have disabilities, will they be ill, or old, ones whom no one wants? Those are all questions that have to be looked at. In the last resort it is politicians that will decide, but the government is waiting for us to make proposals,” said Steiner.

The quota system would not affect the number of people who come directly to Switzerland to apply for refugee status, she added.

“The law does not set an upper limit for the number of people who make an application. There are already enough obstacles for people who want to apply for asylum.”

It is not only in Switzerland that the question of quotas is under discussion. The Scandinavian countries, Sweden in particular, lead the way in accepting quotas of refugees, but in many other countries of the EU the question is currently a matter of debate.

swissinfo, Julia Slater

The Federal Commission on Migration is an advisory body to the Swiss government.

It was formed from a merger of the Federal Commission for Foreigners and the Federal Commission for Refugees and started work on January 1, 2008.

It has 30 members, of whom about half are of non-Swiss origin.

It concentrates on issues of asylum and integration.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR