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Syrian refugees bypass Switzerland for EU states

Caroline Bishop · 8 Sep 2015, 11:19

Published: 08 Sep 2015 11:19 GMT+02:00

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New figures released by the Swiss Migration Office (SEM) show that a total of 3,899 asylum requests were placed last month, just three more than in July and hardly the influx experienced by other European countries.

Of the Swiss total, 1,610 requests came from Eritreans, 461 from Afghans, 401 from Syrians and 180 from Iraqis.

Releasing the figures in a statement on Monday the SEM said: “Switzerland is not a preferred destination country of migrants, which explains why the rise in the number of asylum requests is modest compared to that observed in Europe as a whole.”

Speaking to the newspaper Tribune de Genève on Tuesday, Amnesty International asylum coordinator Denise Graf said the lack of Syrian enthusiasm for Switzerland may be due to the modest size of the existing Syrian population in the country.

“The Syrian community is very small in Switzerland compared with the Eritrean community,” she said.

“We notice a bigger influx of refugees when the Diaspora is already large.”

Latest figures show just over 5,000 Syrian refugees have been given provisional permission to live in Switzerland while a further 2,000 are currently having their asylum applications reviewed.

By contrast some 20,000 Eritreans have been welcomed into Switzerland in recent years, forming the largest such group outside the North African country itself.

Another reason for the relatively low number of Syrian asylum seekers arriving in Switzerland is the alpine nation’s stricter asylum policy compared to elsewhere in Europe, added Graf.

“In Sweden, the rate of acceptance of Syrian refugees is 100 percent. In Switzerland it’s around 35 percent, the others being given only provisional admission, which isn’t satisfactory.”

Red tape hold-ups

Back in March the federal council set a quota to accept 3,000 Syrian refugees over three years, and current president Simonetta Sommaruga has long said Switzerland would participate in any EU agreement on refugee quotas.

But in actual fact the processing system is sluggish, says the Tribune de Genève.

“The HCR [UN refugee agency] gave 300 files over to the SEM and it is currently examining them,” Graf told the paper.

“Every three weeks it accepts a quota of around 30 people, particularly the vulnerable. It’s certainly a positive step, but it takes time.

A further 1,000 places are reserved for the close relatives of Syrians already in Switzerland, she said, but again bureaucracy is holding the scheme back.

“The definition is so strict that only the husband or wife and under-age children can come,” said Graf.

Politicians in the country are divided on the issue.

Green politician Ueli Leuenberger told the paper that these bureaucratic hold-ups were “scandalous”.

“I know that there are plenty of reasons for this slowness. But we have to get past bureaucracy and move forward, especially since winter is coming.

“We must extend the chance for families to be together,” he said, adding that current rules mean a girl of 19 can’t even come to Switzerland with her parents.

Christian Democrat Christophe Darbellay agreed that quotas should be filled more quickly.

“We have to work faster, but also remain attentive. Bringing jihadists in would be the worst thing,” he told the paper.

“Migrants are coming. We should expect an increase. Switzerland must do its part by partnering with Europe to take its share.”

But other are taking a less proactive stance.

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“If Syrians don’t want to come to Switzerland, we shouldn’t go and get them,” Swiss People's Party councillor Hans Fehr told the Tribune.

“But it makes sense to strengthen on-site aid and to fight against smugglers,” he added.

In total, in the first eight months of this year Switzerland received 19,668 asylum requests from all nationalities.

That’s expected to rise to around 30,000 by the end of the year, a sharp increase on the 23,765 asylum requests placed last year, which was already an 11 percent rise on 2013 figures.

Of the 2,095 asylum requests processed in August, Switzerland granted asylum to 462 people and gave a further 584 provisional admission, said the SEM.

It also rejected 649 people under the Dublin convention, which specifies that people should apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter.

The number of pending applications in Switzerland rose by 1,922 to 19,207.

EU member states registered 550,000 asylum requests from January to July 2015, compared with 304,000 during the same period last year.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Caroline Bishop (news@thelocal.ch)

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