REFUGEE CRISIS : Swiss aim to expand support for Syrians

swiss2The Swiss government has tasked foreign ministry and justice ministry with working out proposals on how best to reinforce Swiss support for victims of the Syrian conflict on a long term basis.

The civil war has now entered its fifth year and forced 15.5 million people to rely on emergency aid. Neighbouring countries are already hosting 3.3 million refugees, 40% of whom are under 12 years old.

“The [refugee] acceptance capacity of neighbouring countries is reaching its limits,” the government statement read. “The onus is now on the international community to contribute to the protection of displaced persons and to relieve the burden on neighbouring states,” it added.

The statement comes a week after a group of 27 organisations published an open letter to the government urging Switzerland to accommodate 100,000 Syrian refugees.

Groups like Solidarité sans frontières and the Swiss Peace Council said that Switzerland could and must do more to help people fleeing the conflict in Syria. In a context where the numbers of people fleeing violence are at their highest since the Second World War, the letter said it was “incomprehensible” for the European Union and Switzerland to adhere to a policy of isolation.

On the ground

However, the latest signal from the government emphasises help on the ground as the “most urgent measure”. Switzerland is currently supporting aid projects and programmes in the crisis region with the goal of improving conditions for victims of the conflict.

Since 2011, the government has approved CHF 128 million ($126 million) for aid in the region, contributing to international organisations and running its own projects.

The foreign ministry has until the end of February to examine how the humanitarian aid can be reinforced through a reallocation of existing funds.

“The cabinet is of the view that it is important to keep aid for the crisis region at this high level, or even to reinforce it,” the statement said.

Since the war broke out in 2011, some 9,000 Syrian nationals have travelled to Switzerland to seek asylum. In 2013, the Swiss cabinet decided to accept a further 500 especially vulnerable refugees from Syria over a period of three years, 168 of whom have arrived to date.

The justice ministry is now tasked with examining whether, and under which conditions, more refugees from the crisis region could find protection in Switzerland.

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