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Thousands demonstrate in support of refugees

Thousands demonstrated in Bern against the refugee policy of Justice Minister Christoph Blocher Keystone

Between 5,000 and 8,000 people took part in a demonstration in Bern on Saturday to mark the 26th National Refugee Day.

Events were held simultaneously in 200 other towns across the country to protest at Switzerland’s tougher stance on asylum issues.

“We will not put up with xenophobic words and political parties,” said Hannes Reiser of the European Citizens’ Forum in an opening speech.

Among other speakers at the Bern gathering was former government minister Ruth Dreifuss. The Social Democrat called on society “to remind our parliament and our government of their responsibilities.”

“It is necessary to issue a reminder that asylum is a fundamental right, as there is a big risk of this being forgotten,” Dreifuss said.

“We cannot force people temporarily admitted into our country into a second exile,” the ex-interior minister said, referring to a parliamentary decision to tighten the asylum law and scrap welfare payments for rejected asylum seekers.

She said asylum requests had to be processed under law, and the absence of identity papers could be a sign of persecution.

“We denounce the gradual but continued erosion of our asylum law,” Dreifuss concluded.

We are Switzerland

More than 100 human rights and church organisations, as well as unions and political parties, had called on their supporters to attend the demonstration in Bern held under the motto “We are Switzerland”.

It followed a gathering of writers and journalists in the federal capital on Friday under the auspices of the Swiss Refugee Council. Participants strongly criticised current asylum policy, which they referred to as a “practice of expulsion”.

On Sunday it will be the turn of the Swiss churches to mark “Refugee Sunday” on the theme of resistance.

The United Nations World Refugee Day is held on Monday. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is using the occasion to remind the world that while the number of refugees is falling, the number of displaced people is on the rise.

swissinfo with agencies

In 2004 there were 14’248 asylum requests in Switzerland, 32.3% less than in 2003.
In 2004, 1,550 applications were successful (1,640 in 2003.)
10,080 applications were rejected.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR