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.
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.