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Swiss Village Votes “No” to Refugees, National Government Pursues New Asylum Law

Swiss Village Votes “No” to Refugees, National Government Pursues New Asylum Law

While some groups seek to repair the nation’s failing asylum policy, others, such as the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) advocate for stronger borders. Worries about the economy, tinges of xenophobia, and humanitarian concerns have combined to create a divided environment in Switzerland. 

The Federal Council agreed last March to take in 3,000 refugees over the next three years. The only opponent was Ueli Maurer of the SVP, whose position was echoed by nearly 45% of the Swiss populace. 

This Sunday, Oberwil-Lieli voted (579-525) to pay nearly $300,000 per year to avoid taking in its quota of 9 refugees. The annual fee will come from the city’s budget and go directly to the canton (Swiss equivalent of a state). The decision has caused a serious rift within the wealthy community of 2,000, but is optimistically backed by the community’s president – who is none other than Andreas Glarner, member of the national parliament and SVP party spokesman.

It is a “civil duty” to resist such quotas, says Glarner. “Switzerland must close all of its green borders with barbed wire.” He worries that neighboring Italy is becoming a more popular target for migrants as Greece becomes harder to access. “There is going to be an invasion of asylum seekers. The only way into Europe is Italy. Italy is not a desired destination. The asylum seekers are coming to Switzerland.” 

Andreas Glarner, current head of the SVP, advocates for strict border controls and argues that such measures have been “extremely effective” in limiting migration in the past. In his opinion, the country shouldn’t even think about accepting individuals who aren’t actually from Syria (this would mean turning away more than 80% of the refugees knocking at Switzerland’s gates). 

Glarner is hard at work preparing for June 5th, when Swiss voters will decide whether or not to back a new asylum law – one that Sommaruga hopes will speed up the asylum process and lead to financial savings in the long run. The new system has already been tested in Zurich, were voluntary repatriations increased 3x while the number of appeals filed by asylum seekers fell substantially. 

Glarner believes the new law will make Switzerland a more appealing destination for refugees, but has refrained from launching a poster campaign on the issue. “The people must know themselves what asylum policy they want,” he said.

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga stands in opposition to the SVP and has refused to tighten borders. In September she decided that Switzerland would take those 3,000 refugees in 18 months rather than 3 years and announced that the nation would also be accepting 1,500 refugees already registered in Greece and Italy. 

Switzerland’s foreign-born population currently sits at 26%, making it the third highest of such populations in the OECD. This fact adds to anti-foreigner sentiment, which is felt most strongly in conservative rural towns like Oberwil-Lieli.

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