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IMMIGRATION

MPs call on Switzerland to accept asylum seekers rescued in Med

A cross-party group of Swiss politicians is calling for Switzerland to open its doors to asylum seekers who have been rescued while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

MPs call on Switzerland to accept asylum seekers rescued in Med
Asylum seekers on an inflatable dinghy elonging to the 'Ocean Viking' rescue ship, operated by French NGOs SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) in April. Photo: AFP

The parliamentary motion is co-signed by six MPs who represent all of Switzerland’s major parties except the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP).

In the motion (here in German) filed on Tuesday, the MPs call on Switzerland to adopt one of two options.

The first of these would see Switzerland accept two percent of all people rescued by NGO boats on the Mediterranean, or some 200 to 300 people in 2019, based on estimates from the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

READ ALSO: Here is why Switzerland is temporarily closing two asylum centres

Meanwhile, under the terms of the second option, Switzerland would receive several hundred refugees from coastal countries such as Italy, Malta and Spain to relieve the pressure on refugee reception centres in those countries.

With the motion, the politicians want to draw attention to the urgent need for action to address the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean area.

According to the UNHCR, over 600 people have drowned trying to cross to Europe since the start of the year.

The adoption of the motion by the parliament would see Switzerland join what German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has called “a coalition of the willing” – a group of countries prepared to work together to create a quota system for distributing refugees rescued on the Mediterranean without having to wait for approval for the entire EU bloc.

The motion’s backers say there are several key reasons Switzerland should take part in the scheme. They highlight the fact that Switzerland is the depository state for the Geneva Conventions while it is also the home of the UNHCR headquarters, as well as having a long humanitarian tradition.

The MPs also note Libya – the departure point of many refugees crossing to Europe – is currently in a state of war and that no one should be returned there.

Finally, they note that Switzerland, by contributing funding to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), is also indirectly funding the Libyan coastguard. This agency places refugees rescued on the Mediterranean in camps where human rights abuses are widespread.

In comments to the TagesAnzeiger newspaper, one of the MPs behind the motion, Kurt Fluri with the centre-right FDP, conceded the options proposed were “just a drop in the bucket” given that it only helped people who had already managed to leave Libya.

He also admitted the motion had little chance of success and that many people in his own party would vote against it.

But fellow signatory Rosmarie Quadranti of the Conservative Democratic Party of Switzerland (BDP) said the motion would help draw attention to the critical issues involved.

“We can’t wait until the Dublin system is reformed,” she said, referring to the EU system which regulates which countries are responsible for handling asylum claims.

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IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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