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‘We must help more' says mayor who refused refugees

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‘We must help more' says mayor who refused refugees
Children at a refugee camp in Greece. Photo: Sakis Mitrolidis
11:52 CEST+02:00
Andreas Glarner, the mayor of Oberwil-Lieli, the village in the canton of Aargau which chose to pay a fine rather than accept its share of asylum seekers, was moved by a trip to a refugee camp in Greece this week.

Back in May the residents of Oberwil-Lieli, one of the richest villages in Switzerland, voted to pay 290,000 francs a year to the canton rather than agree to shelter ten asylum seekers.

Glarner, the village mayor and MP for the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), was fully supportive of the decision, saying at the time that Swiss citizens had a duty to resist the pro-refugee dictates of the Swiss capital.

But on a visit to two migrant camps in Greece this week Glarner was left emotional on seeing the plight of refugees for the first time.

“It's brutal to see that these people are living in sometimes inhuman conditions. We must do more than we have already to help refugees who are already in Europe,” he told daily Blick, saying that more money should be given to aid agencies helping on the ground.

Fine words, but also bold ones from a man who previously said Switzerland “must close all of its green borders with barbed wire”.  

Glarner was visiting the camps on the urging of Zurich-based novelist Andrea Fischer Schulthess, who challenged the politician to go and meet refugees for himself after his comments on asylum policy.

The poster-boy for the SVP's hardline stance on asylum took time to talk to refugees and was well received by them, with one telling Blick “he's not as bad as I thought”.

Observing the politician on his visit, Fischer Schulthess told Blick he was open and friendly with the refugees, particularly the children, “but as soon as they mentioned problems and requests, he shut down”.

It seems despite the emotion of the trip, Glarner hasn't changed his views.

“I am even more convinced that we must not let refugees come to Europe,” he told Blick, adding that taking them in only encourages more to come.

Instead, Switzerland should do more to improve conditions in camps in countries neighbouring the conflict zone, he said, so that refugees would be less likely to risk their lives trying to get to Europe.

Refugees would then be better placed to return to their country when peace comes, he said.

“If I was a refugee, that's what I would want to do.”

In March 2015 Switzerland agreed to take in 3,000 Syrian refugees over three years.

Of those, 1,500 will come through the European Union's refugee relocation programme, aiming to move migrants from Italy and Greece, which Switzerland signed up to voluntarily.

Since 2011 the country has given 250 million francs in aid to help people in Syria as well as Syrian refugees in Jordan, Libya, Iraq and Turkey.

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