The Swiss Migration Office (SEM) recently released new figures showing that there was a total of only 3,899 asylum requests placed last month for Switzerland, just three more than in July. To put that number into perspective, the EU member states have registered 550,000 asylum requests total from January to July in 2015, up from the 304,000 they received during the same period last year. This spike in refugee applicants has been felt across Europe, but there has been notable lack of interest in refugee registration to Switzerland compared to other European countries.
Breaking down that Swiss total a bit: 1,610 requests came from Eritreans, 461 from Afghans, 401 from Syrians, and 180 from Iraqis. One reason for the lack of Syrian applicants is due to the modest size of the existing Syrian population in the country. Generally speaking, you can expect a bigger influx of refugees when the Diaspora is already large. As a refugee who is already facing harsh, if not deadly conditions, and is being forced to move their entire lives, it is more appealing to enter into a country with a strong community that resembles that which you experienced back home.
Latest figures from the SEM show that a little over 5,000 Syrian refugees have been given provisional permission to live in Switzerland, with another 2,000 currently in review. As more Syrians are approved, we could see a spike in Syrian refugee interest.
This framework helps us to explain the larger number of Eritrean applications comparatively, since approximately 20,000 Eritreans have been welcomed into Switzerland in recent years. In fact, Switzerland now has the largest sub group of Eritrean people outside of the North African country itself.
Another reason for the relatively low number of Syrian applicants is the Switzerland’s stricter asylum policy compared to elsewhere in Europe. In Sweden, for example, the rate of acceptance of Syrian refugees is 100 percent. In Switzerland it’s around 35 percent, with provisional admission.
Of the 2,095 asylum requests processed in August, Switzerland granted asylum to 462 people and gave 584 provisional admission. It also rejected 649 people under the Dublin convention, which specifies that people should apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter.
In March, the federal council set a quota to accept 3,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years, and another 1,000 places are reserved for the close relatives of Syrians already in Switzerland. Current president Simonetta Sommaruga has long agreed to participate in any EU regulations the EU sets on refugee quotas.
Another factor currently slowing Switzerland’s refugee application processing speed can be blamed on overly-complicated bureaucracy and strict terms. The current number of total pending applications in Switzerland has risen by 1,922 to total 19,207.
Some politicians, such as Green politician Ueli Leuenberger, have said they find these hold-ups “scandalous.” Others, like Christian Democrat Christophe Darbellay, believe the painstaking precautions the country is taken is necessary to protect it against potentially dangerous immigrants. And then there are some, like Swiss People’s Party councillor Hans Fehr, who seem to be taking the stance that if immigrants aren’t interested in Switzerland, then Switzerland isn’t interested in them. As he told the Tribune, “If Syrians don’t want to come to Switzerland, we shouldn’t go and get them.”
In the first eight months of 2015, Switzerland has received a total of 19,668 asylum requests from all nationalities, and they are expecting that number to rise to around 30,000 by the end of the year. By comparison, there were 23,765 asylum requests placed last year, an 11 percent rise from 2013.