Swiss minister defends government’s Afghan refugee strategy

US marines help with the evacuation of citizens at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan on August 20, 2021. Keystone / Lance Cpl. Nicholas Guevara

Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter has defended Switzerland’s refugee policy on Afghanistan. The Alpine country cannot unilaterally help people leave the country, she declared in an interview on Saturday.

This content was published on August 21, 2021 - 11:32

“Switzerland has absolutely no way of getting these people out of the country," she told the CH media group on Saturday. “We cannot arbitrarily select 10,000 people and evacuate them from the crisis zone.”

She added that there were currently no mass population displacements from Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, government ministers outlined their policy on Afghanistan, saying they were concentrating on evacuating Swiss nationals and around 230 locals who worked on Swiss projects in Afghanistan, together with their relatives.

The justice minister has not ruled out accepting more refugees in the future but says there are no immediate plans to loosen normal asylum procedures for Afghan refugees.

"Because Switzerland is not a NATO member state and because it does not have its own armed forces on the ground, the foreign ministry is dependent on the cooperation of other states," the minister explained.

Keller-Sutter added that Switzerland was better placed to concentrate on humanitarian efforts in the region. She pointed out that around three million Afghan refugees live in Iran, 2.5 million in Pakistan and an estimated 200,000 to 600,000 in Turkey. In Afghanistan, which has an estimated population of over 39 million, there are over half a million internally displaced people.

Pressure has been growing on Switzerland to accept Afghan refugees. Switzerland’s current stance has already been criticised by refugee groups and left-leaning political parties. The cities of Geneva, Zurich and Bern have also called on the government to re-think its stance and open its doors to refugees from Afghanistan.

On Friday, the Swiss foreign ministry announced that Switzerland planned to support the air bridge of individuals evacuated from Afghanistan and had organised a charter flight to Uzbekistan.

A SWISS plane was due to fly to Tashkent on Saturday to pick up people previously evacuated from Kabul. The plane was set to bring Swiss citizens and people from different countries to Europe. However, the ministry said on Saturday that the flight had been postponed due to the difficult security situation around Kabul Airport.

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