Is offering free Swiss travel passes to Ukrainians problematic?
On Tuesday, Alliance SwissPass announced that it would be offering free GA travel passes to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of their country. While the majority agree it was the correct thing to do, many have accused Switzerland of discrimination against other asylum seekers and local Swiss people in need.
Swiss politicians call for free GAs for all asylum seekers and struggling groups
The current system allows all recipients of an S-residence permit - activated by the government to allow for the quick processing of Ukrainians - to receive almost limitless second class travel on public transport in Switzerland. However, this move has been criticised by the co-president of the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, Cédric Wermuth, who said the decision was “problematic” and unfair to other asylum seekers who have been denied the privilege.
Wermuth called on the government to grant free travel passes to all asylum seekers, regardless of origin. He added that the benefit should not be restricted to refugees and that recipients of social security or emergency welfare should also be given free travel for three months a year.
Switzerland accused of unequal treatment of asylum seekers
His thoughts were echoed by National Councillor Florence Brenzikofer, who said that while she welcomed the quick and decisive response by Alliance SwissPass in giving free GAs to Ukrainians, she hoped that the government would create a system for all refugees to use. “It is important that there will be no legal inequality in the future. All those seeking protection should be treated equally,” she noted.
Among the public, there has been some disquiet as to why free GA passes were not given out to those fleeing other conflicts or persecution. Le Matin reported that as Swiss cantons prepare for the Week Against Racism, the decision raises some uncomfortable questions over equal treatment, and could cause resentment among those in the Swiss population who cannot afford a GA - which is typically priced at between 2.400 and 3.860 Swiss francs a year per adult.
Massive investment needed if free GA is to be extended
In response, media spokesperson for Alliance SwissPass, Thomas Ammann, said, "The offer for Ukrainian refugees is a temporary solidarity contribution from the Alliance SwissPass to help them in this crisis." He said that, if the government wanted to provide free GAs to other groups, it would have to be backed up by significant financial support from the federal, cantonal and local authorities.
National Councillor for FDP. The Liberals, Doris Fiala, said that she welcomed the decision to give free travel passes to Ukrainians, but was concerned that Wermuth was using the current crisis to forward a more politically charged and expansive agenda. National Councillor Marianne Binder-Keller thought that the demands made little sense and that the main priority right now should be to process Ukrainians fleeing the conflict as quickly as possible.