Photograph: Ali Jarekii/Reuters
Photograph: Ali Jarekii/Reuters

The Plan:

The head of the Federal department of Justice and Police, Ms. Simonetta Sommaruga, will present a resettlement plan for Syrian refugees to the Federal Council on Wednesday 4 September 2013. Since the start of the Syrian crisis, Switzerland has received two requests from UNHCR to welcome groups of refugees from Syria. It replied positively on both occasions and welcomed 73 people, including 39 children, in October 2012 and in March 2013. However, pressure from NGOs and the dramatic humanitarian situation in Syria and the region have led the Justice Minister to propose the resettlement of a much larger group from Syria to the Federal Council. On her own, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga can approve up to 100 arrivals at a time. A larger group requires the approval from the Federal Council. A group of 300 to 500 people should be proposed according to the Neue Zurcher Zeitung (31.8/1.9.2013).

The Situation in Syria:

As explained on the website of Stories from Syrian Refugees, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/syria.php, 1.9 million refugees have fled their country since 2011, placing unprecedented strain on communities, infrastructure and services in host countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Irak, Turkey and Egypt). Also there has been a massive escalation of arrivals in 2013. Over one million Syrian refugees have registered as refugees since the beginning of 2013. Women and children make up three-quarters of the refugee population. Recently many larger countries such as the USA, Canada, Brazil have already accepted to resettle Syrian refugees who have received a refugee status by the UNHCR following their hearings and their case examination by agency officials.

Go for it:

Resettlement is a long-term solution that is normally reserved for very vulnerable groups, very vulnerable individuals. If the priority for UNHCR now is to maintain asylum in that region, it is however important that countries outside the immediate region show solidarity with the countries most affected by this crisis. In 2011 and 2012 a total of 2’526 Syrians applied for asylum in Switzerland of which only 299 people received asylum (B permit) and 1’556 people received the temporary admission status (F permit). Another 572 Syrians applied for asylum Switzerland from January to July 2013. As the crisis in Syria is worsening, Switzerland should therefore take the opportunity to lead Europe into a movement of solidarity which goes beyond financial support to the UNHCR on the field.

About the UNHCR Resettlement Programme:

Accepting refugees who were selected by the UNHCR for such programmes means the people who are accepted, have already their refugee status. Resettlement under the auspices of UNHCR involves the selection and transfer of refugees from a state in which they have sought protection to a third state that has agreed to admit them – as refugees – with permanent residence status. Of the 10.5 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world, only about 1 per cent is submitted by the agency for resettlement in a third country. The strict selection criteria include: legal and/or physical protection needs; survivors of torture and/or violence; medical needs; women and girls at risk; family reunification; children at risk; lack of foreseeable alternative durable solutions. UNHCR estimates that in 2013 some 181,000 refugees will be in need of resettlement. Yet the current total number of planned places made available by countries stands at 81,000. By nationality, the main beneficiaries of UNHCR-facilitated resettlement programmes in 2011 were refugees from Myanmar (21,300), Iraq (20,000), Somalia (15,700) and Bhutan (13,000). Only 26 states take part in UNHCR resettlement programmes on a regular basis. The United States is the world’s top resettlement country, while Australia, Canada and the Nordic countries also provide a sizeable number of places annually. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of countries involved in resettlement in Europe and Latin America.

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