Swiss cities and municipalities have been willing to take in more refugees for years. However, they have repeatedly been rebuffed by the federal government. The Greens are now pushing for a change in the law.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the State Secretariat for Migration and the Minister of Justice, Karin Keller-Sutter, have a chip on their shoulder. They say the same thing over and over again when Swiss cities and municipalities offer to take in additional refugees: There is no legal basis for this, they say, but rather they want to provide help on the ground.
This was the case after the Moria slum on Lesbos burnt down in September 2020. It was the same after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan last August.
Blessing of the people
“Until now, the Federal Council has always hidden behind the current law when cities wanted to show solidarity,” says Green Party President Balthasar Glättli. “That should no longer be possible.” The Greens already submitted a parliamentary initiative in the last winter session calling on the federal government to create the conditions in the Asylum Act for accepting additional refugee quotas at the request of municipalities and cantons. To give their initiative a boost, the Greens are launching a petition with the same demand on the day of publication of this newspaper. “We want to set the course now. If thousands of people are displaced in the next catastrophe, welcome cities should actually be allowed to take in refugees,” says Glättli.
If the Greens have their way, municipalities and cantons should in future be able to directly take in refugees if they ensure their accommodation and take over the financing. In addition, they must fulfil the requirements for admission as a group, i.e. they must be recognised as refugees by the UNHCR, for example. The additionally admitted people should neither be counted towards the cantonal distribution key nor towards refugee quotas decided by the federal government, for example within the framework of resettlement programmes.
The fact that the majority of the urban population supports the demand is made clear by several parliamentary initiatives at the municipal level. For example, at the beginning of January, the Zurich city parliament referred a postulate to the executive with the demand to create a legal basis for the admission of refugees outside the city’s existing quota. The head of Zurich’s social affairs department, Raphael Golta (SP), had already made it clear in autumn 2020, immediately after the fire in Moria, that Zurich could take in 800 people (see WOZ No. 39/2020). At that time, the eight largest cities in Switzerland joined forces to form the alliance “Cities and Municipalities for the Reception of Refugees”, which has since grown to sixteen cities.
“We are convinced that Switzerland can do more for refugees,” says Golta even today. “Europe is closing itself off more and more, and there is an urgent need for more direct access routes. As cities, we want to get involved and have repeatedly communicated this to the federal government. But so far it has shown zero interest.” On the occasion of the postulate, further legal clarifications are now being made. “But for something to really happen, we need the political will at the federal level. The Greens’ initiative will also help,” says Golta.
Twenty were too few
Golta’s Bernese colleague Franziska Teuscher (Green Alliance) does not mince her words either: “The federal government does not regard the cities as equal partners in asylum policy. Otherwise, municipal autonomy is always upheld, but here no dialogue at eye level seems possible.” She also knows that she has the support of the city parliament behind her. When, after the fire in Moria, the city of Bern offered the federal government to take 20 refugees from Lesbos within two weeks, it passed an urgent motion that Bern should take in 500 people – 20 was far too few.
The central element of the petition as well as the parliamentary initiative is the sole financing by the municipalities. But what does that look like for the city of Bern, which is struggling with financial problems? “The question of money is not the first thing that comes up,” says Teuscher. “Switzerland is still one of the richest countries, and despite financial problems we have to show solidarity. The people in the Greek camps are still living in the greatest need. The winter was very cold and made living conditions worse. It is a duty that we take them in.”
Teuscher believes the parliamentary initiative has a chance: “No one is forced to do anything. But those who want to help should be allowed to help”. With the petition, the Greens hope to put pressure on the National Council’s State Policy Commission, which will be the first to deal with the bill. “We have to show again that there are many of us who support this cause,” says Teuscher. She refers to the Easter appeal “Evacuate now!” of 2020, which called on the Federal Council to bring as many refugees as possible from the Aegean to Switzerland – and was signed by 50,000 people.
Sign the Welcome Cities Appeal today and join us in demanding solidarity with refugees! The federal government must no longer stand in the way of Welcome Cities!