SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

UKRAINE

‘Limited capacity’: How the Swiss right wants to shut out western Ukrainian refugees

With about 51,000 refugees from Ukraine currently in Switzerland, right-wing politicians argue in favour of introducing geographic vetting in regards to who can qualify for Status S, saying Switzerland has "limited capacity" for refugees.

'Limited capacity': How the Swiss right wants to shut out western Ukrainian refugees
Ukrainian refugees en route to Zurich in a chartered plane. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, the Federal Council activated, for the first time ever, the ‘S status’ authorising Ukrainians and Ukraine residents fleeing the war to live temporarily in Switzerland.

The special status is initially valid for a year, but can be extended. Anyone who is still in Switzerland after five years receives a B permit.

Included is also the right to work, as well as free health care and language courses. The refugees also have the right to free public transportation, but this perk will end on May 31st, with no word yet whether it will be renewed.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s special ‘S permit’ visa program: What Ukrainians need to know

Now, however, “the great solidarity with refugees from Ukraine is cracking”, according to SonntagsZeitung, which reports that rightwing politicians in Switzerland are “beginning to question our country’s culture of hospitality”.

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which has consistently opposed sanctions on Russia, is calling on the government to limit the S status  only to Ukrainians who come from the eastern part of the country, which is currently most impacted by Russia’s invasion.  

This movement is spearheaded by MP Martina Bircher, who argues that Switzerland is reaching its limits in terms of the number of refugees it can accommodate and support, and it should therefore grant S status only to those fleeing the most conflict-ridden regions of Ukraine, like the eastern part.

Other right-of-centre groups are in favour of this “regionalisation” as well. Andrea Caroni, president of the centre-right Liberal Party, supports the idea of granting the special status based on the geographical evolution of the Ukrainian conflict, saying Switzerland “ultimately has limited capacity” to absorb refugees from Ukraine. 

He said, however, that such a measure “must be coordinated at the European level.”

Not everyone, however, agrees with Bircher’s proposal.

According to Gerhard Pfister, president of the Centre Party, adopting geographical limitations “would create two classes of Ukrainians. This is not right”.

It is unclear how the SVP would seek to draw barriers to distinguish between the east and west of the country. 

As for the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Social Affairs, vice-president Marianne Lienhard said the organisaton will discuss the proposal at its next meeting at the end of May.

Cantons are directly affected by the influx of Ukrainians, as they will eventually bear the cost of supporting the refugees — the cost which is currently borne mostly at a federal level.

The “NZZ am Sonntag” calculated that in 2022, the costs of housing, health insurance, and general support will amount to between 1.25 and 2.25 billion francs. In 2023, these expenses could climb to 7.5 billion.

“Fake” refugees

In an article she wrote for the SVP website, Bircher also argued that some refugees pretending to be Ukrainian actually aren’t.

As an MP from Aargau, she claims that out of 12 people who received the S status in a small town in her canton, only seven were Ukrainian nationals. The other five came from Africa.

Among them are  “Kenyan and Lebanese men who claim to have lived in Ukraine or who actually lived there before the war, but who do not have a Ukrainian passport”.

The S permit scheme does not only provide protection for Ukrainian citizens, but also citizens of other countries who live in Ukraine. 

While reserved predominantly for Ukrainians, the S status has also been occasionally granted to citizens of other countries. 

According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), about 1,000 “other” refugees received this status as well, including 238 Russians, and  people from Germany, France, Italy, the United States, Canada and Australia.

In such cases, children have a different passport from their parents, but it is the parents’ nationality and place of residence that defines whether the status is granted.

So it could happen that the parents have Ukrainian passports, while their children are citizens of other nations.

READ MORE: Swiss MPs call for Russian money to be used to reconstruct Ukraine
 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

POLITICS

‘Colossal’: World leaders meet in Switzerland for Ukraine recovery conference

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and the private sector gathered in Switzerland Monday to hash out a "Marshall Plan" to rebuild war-ravaged Ukraine.

‘Colossal’: World leaders meet in Switzerland for Ukraine recovery conference

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who will take part virtually, warned Sunday that the work ahead in the areas that have been liberated alone was “really colossal”.

“And we will have to free over 2,000 villages and towns in the east and south of Ukraine,” he said.

The two-day conference, held under tight security in the picturesque southern Swiss city of Lugano, had been planned well before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24.

It had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine, but once the Russian bombs began to fall it was repurposed to focus on reconstruction.

As billions of dollars in aid flows into Ukraine, however, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms remain in focus and will be a condition for any recovery plan decided here. 

‘Roadmap’

Lugano is not a pledging conference, but will instead attempt to lay out the principles and priorities for a rebuilding process aimed to begin even as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to rage.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland Artem Rybchenko said ahead of the conference that it would help create “the roadmap” to his country’s recovery.

Zelensky had initially been scheduled to come and co-host the event alongside his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis, but now he is due to give his address Monday afternoon via video link.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has however made a rare trip out of Ukraine since the war began to attend, and was met at the airport Sunday by Cassis and regional leaders.

Five other government ministers were also among the around 100 Ukrainians who made the long and perilous journey, although Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reportedly had to cancel at the last moment due to illness.

In all, around 1,000 people were scheduled to participate in the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, several government chiefs and numerous ministers. 

‘Marshall Plan’

Questions have been raised about the value in discussing reconstruction when there is no end in sight to the war.

But Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the RTS broadcaster that while the reconstruction itself could only happen fully after the bombs have stopped, it is vital to give “a positive perspective to civilians who have lost their homes, and who are struggling with anxiety and uncertainty for the future”.

Others stress the need to begin laying the groundwork well in advance, as was done with the wildly successful Marshall Plan, a US initiative that pumped vast sums in foreign aid into Western Europe to help the continent rebuild and recover after World War II.

The task is daunting.

Rebuilding Ukraine, which four months into the war has already seen devastating destruction, is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

The effort will require “colossal investments”, Zelensky acknowledged at the weekend.

Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) has estimated the damage done so far to buildings and infrastructure at nearly $104 billion.

It estimated that at least 45 million square metres of housing, 256 enterprises, 656 medical institutions, and 1,177 educational institutions had been damaged, destroyed or seized, while Ukraine’s economy had already suffered losses of up to $600 billion. 

Could last decades 

Simon Pidoux, the Swiss ambassador in charge of the conference, said that it was too early to try to estimate all the needs, insisting Lugano instead should provide “a compass” for the work ahead.

“I think the effort will last for years if not decades,” he said.

While not a donor conference, a number of participants are expected to make new pledges and propose frameworks for providing more funds.

The European Investment Bank will for instance propose the creation of a new Ukraine trust fund, which with investments from EU and non-EU states could eventually swell to 100 billion euros, according to sources familiar with the draft plans.

The proposal, which is due to be announced Monday afternoon, aims to create a platform able to generate investment towards reconstruction, and also towards Ukraine’s EU accession goals, they said.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is meanwhile due to set out her country’s vision for the rebuilding, according to a statement. In her comments to the conference Monday, she is expected to highlight the importance of Ukraine’s full recovery from “Russia’s war of aggression”. That, she will say, will be “a symbol of the power of democracy over autocracy.”

SHOW COMMENTS