Switzerland’s refugee centres severely overcrowded

Switzerland was again struggling Wednesday to put up refugees from Kosovo, as emergency reception centres were overcrowded and more Kosovar refugees sought shelter in the country.

This content was published on June 16, 1999 - 17:40

Switzerland was again struggling Wednesday to put up refugees from Kosovo, as emergency reception centres were overcrowded and more Kosovar refugees sought shelter in the country.

The reception centres of the Federal Office for Refugees were originally meant to look after 3,331 people. But on Wednesday, the centres were bursting at the seams as 4,429 refugees were crammed into the emergency sites.

Jean-Daniel Gerber, the head of the refugee office, said that the authorities in Basel and Geneva had been unable to put up 736 refugees from Kosovo. But he added that none of those were forced to sleep in the open since they could all be placed with friends and relatives for the time being.

“The situation is difficult,” a spokeswoman for the refugee office said earlier in the day.

The office said that the authorities in the reception centres had been unable to register another 1,000 refugees, but that the vast majority of them were put up in newly-opened civilian protection shelters.

Eleven of those shelters – built to protect civilians in case of war or natural disasters – have already been opened, while four others will be opening their doors in the next two weeks, according to the refugee office.

On Tuesday, Switzerland suspended its airlift of Kosovo refugees from Macedonia in light of the overflowing reception centres. The tenth and, for the time being, last flight arrived in Zurich on Tuesday.

On a per capita count, Switzerland has taken in the highest number of refugees from Kosovo. The cantonal authorities have demanded clear guidelines from the Swiss government on who should be allowed into the country, where they will stay and who will pay for their care.

Last weekend, Swiss voters came out in favour of new asylum laws which will allow refugees to enter the country without going through the normally very lengthy asylum seeking process. However, the new law says that, once peace is restored in their home countries, the refugees will have to go back.

The new legislation also allows the authorities to bar entrance to those refugees who fail to provide identity papers.

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