Zurich offers CHF500 per person to encourage Ukrainian refugees to return

Ukrainian refugees in the canton of Zurich have been offered CHF500 to return home, as part of Switzerland’s return assistance program.

Ukrainian refugees exit a plane chartered by a Swiss millionaire at Zurich Airport, on March 22, 2022. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Ukrainian refugees exit a plane chartered by a Swiss millionaire at Zurich Airport, on March 22, 2022. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have arrived in Switzerland since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. 

Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton, has been a popular destination for many fleeing the conflict in their homeland. 

On Tuesday, authorities said they were offering each Ukrainian CHF500 in assistance to return to Ukraine, should they wish to do so. 

Multiple family members can take a payment, with a maximum of CHF2,000 offered per family. 

The money has been offered under Switzerland’s ‘return assistance program’, a federal scheme “aimed at facilitating the voluntary return of migrants to their country of origin and their reintegration.” 

In addition to the money, Switzerland offers counselling and medical assistance to refugees who wish to return. 

Generally anyone who wants to take advantage of the program is entitled to a maximum of CHF1,000, although the Swiss government works with the cantons to set the cost differently for each country. 

‘We already have a number of applications’

Zurich councillor Mario Fehr said arrivals to Switzerland had already taken advantage of the program. 

“We already have a number of applications,” he said on Tuesday. 

As it stands, Switzerland’s special ’S Permit’ status for Ukrainian arrivals is set to expire in March 2022, although it can be extended. 

Fehr defended the plan, saying it was developed to be supportive rather than to push refugees to relocate. 

City councilor Raphael Golta noted that cantonal authorities were finding it difficult to provide for the new arrivals. 

“We are planning with different variants and want to communicate in late summer. At best , container and tent settlements come into question.”

Around 2,000 people in Zurich have received S Permit status. 

Is Switzerland tiring of Ukrainian refugees?

We all remember heartbreaking photos of Ukrainian women and children fleeing the war after Russia invaded their country on February 24th.

Like many other European nations, the Swiss opened their hearts and borders to these people, with both the government and population moved by empathy toward the innocent victims of war.

ANALYSIS: Why is Swiss solidarity with Ukrainian refugees waning?

Swiss authorities even activated a special permit, the so-called Status S, authorising Ukrainian refugees to live and work in Switzerland for up to a year — a period that could be extended if the war isn’t over by then.

Refugees from other countries meanwhile have to wait for three months before seeking permission to work in Switzerland.

Status S also grants Ukrainians free health care, language courses, as well as financial aid, the amount of which depends on the canton of residence.

Initially they were entitled to free use of public transport across Switzerland, but that perk expired on May 31st, with some cantons replacing the federal scheme with their own free, limited-zone transport schemes.

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

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Switzerland bans imports of Russian gold

Switzerland, a key refiner and manufacturer of gold bars, is banning imports of the precious metal from Russia, the government said Wednesday.

Switzerland bans imports of Russian gold

The central government aligned itself with EU sanctions which, on July 21, added a ban on gold imports of Russian origin to the list of restrictions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The ban came into effect at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, Switzerland’s Federal Council said in a statement.

Under the new sanctions, Switzerland forbids “buying, importing or transporting gold and gold products from Russia”, the statement said, adding that “services in connection with these goods are also prohibited”.

Traditionally neutral, Switzerland broke with its usual stance in the days after the start of the war in Ukraine by aligning itself with European Union economic sanctions.

In May, three tons of gold from Russia were imported from Britain, but it was not clear which company was responsible for bringing it to Switzerland, Bloomberg News reported.

The Swiss Association of Manufacturers and Traders in Precious Metals (ASFCMP), which represents the country’s largest refineries, contacted its members and said none of them were responsible for the imports.

The association insisted that “doubtful gold” had “no place in Switzerland” and urged its members to act “with the utmost caution”.

Swiss customs said at the time they were examining the imports in light of the sanctions, but insisted that gold imports from Russia were not banned.

While gold exports were already subject to sanctions, imports were not banned under the sanctions order, customs officials said.

The fourth package of sanctions imposed by the EU included luxury goods, banning the sale, supply, transfer or export of luxury goods to Russia, including gold, silver, pearls and diamonds.

But on July 21, the EU also explicitly added a ban on importing gold from Russia, including in the form of powder, debris or gold coins.

Switzerland has several refineries to recycle gold and melt ingots.

The sector employs 1,500 people, according to ASFCMP.