In 2012, the only safe escape route to Switzerland, the embassy asylum, was abolished. Thousands of deaths and countless experiences of violence at the borders later, its reintroduction was demanded – and now rejected. The touted alternatives, such as the granting of humanitarian visas or resettlement, even fall short of the quotas Parliament has set for itself.
Embassy asylum allowed people to apply for asylum outside Switzerland, which was then examined by the authorities. It was abolished on the grounds that this possibility only existed in Switzerland, but not in other European states. There was talk of a “pull effect” that could not be risked (again) under any circumstances and of sufficient other possibilities, for example, to reach Switzerland with a humanitarian visa or via the resettlement programme. In practice, however, the abolition of embassy asylum has meant that to this day people can only apply for asylum on Swiss soil. The way there is illegalised and life-threatening.
Obtaining a humanitarian visa is associated with major hurdles. A person must be in “direct, serious and concrete danger to life and limb” in their country of origin, have a connection to Switzerland, prospects of integration and no possibility of seeking protection in another country. A collective reason for fleeing, such as the threat of war or hunger, is not sufficient. And then the SEM has to judge that as well. In addition, an application must be made at a Swiss embassy, which does not exist in every country and is not accessible to many people. Accordingly, only 296 humanitarian visas were issued in 2020.
The resettlement possibilities are similarly narrow. Since 2019, admission quotas have always been set for 2 years. Previously, the number was 1,600 people per two years, who are pre-selected and proposed by the UNHCR. For this, their refugee status must already have been recognised and a willingness to integrate in Switzerland must also have been promised. In 2020/21, this already very low quota was not met. Only 1,380 people were able to come to Switzerland via resettlement within two whole years. Thousands of people from Afghanistan alone have been seeking protection since the Taliban seized power. Resettlement places in Switzerland for people from Afghanistan in 2021: 219.
In Afghanistan, as in so many other places, it is preferable to help on the spot. The funds, which mostly come from development cooperation, are increasingly linked to migration agreements and sealing-off measures. The countries of origin should actively ensure that people do not make their way to Europe in order to be able to apply for asylum there. After all, an economically better situation for people does not necessarily lead to them wanting to stay in their country of origin. Rather, it gives many people the chance to be able to afford to flee or migrate to Europe in the first place.
Official Switzerland keeps repeating two core arguments like a mantra: “There are enough opportunities to apply for asylum in Switzerland in a safe way”. And: “We cannot do more, otherwise we will be alone in Europe.” Neither statement becomes any truer by being repeated. Both narratives can be changed. Just as a different Swiss policy is possible if one wants to, so too is a different European policy. One in which humanitarian principles and the rule of law are upheld – at least, that is, what one as a state claims for itself. Even then, we are still a long way from a world without borders and equal opportunities for all people.
Even we as Seebrücke cannot repeat often enough: Switzerland has room and more than 30 cities and municipalities that are ready to welcome us. As we write this, there are more and more.
Picture: Swiss Embassy Islamabad © DFA