What has Switzerland done to help Ukraine so far?
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Switzerland and its people have committed themselves to helping Ukrainian refugees by sending aid and providing shelter. With thousands of asylum seekers expected to arrive in the coming days, here is what the Swiss government has prepared.
Switzerland activates its emergency S-residence permit
To prepare for the influx of refugees, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) has confirmed that it has activated the S-residence permit. Unlike other residence permits in Switzerland, the S-permit is designed to forgo traditional requirements and be given to “people in need of protection” - which would include Ukrainian citizens who fled the conflict and non-Ukrainian citizens who were forced to leave the country.
The permit was designed during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, but this is the first time it has been activated. It is hoped that the S-permit - which gives the holder licence to live and have a job in Switzerland for a year - will streamline the process from a case-to-case basis to an “unbureaucratic” and “speedy process,” according to Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter.
Asylum centres in Switzerland to be digitised
Alongside the new permit, the government has installed new facilities to help process refugees. The centres, set up by the SEM, are in Zurich, Boudry (Canton Neuchâtel), Basel, Chiasso (Canton Ticino) and Altstätten (Canton St. Gallen).
So far, thousands of Ukrainian refugees have arrived at the facilities, leading to large queues and long waiting times. Daniel Bach, spokesperson for the SEM, said they were working around the clock to help refugees but “federal asylum centres are being overrun.” On March 11, the head of the SEM, Christine Schraner Burgener, apologised to those who had to wait and announced that employees were now distributing supplies like water and baby food to those in line.
To make the system more accessible, the SEM has installed a traffic light system on its website, showing which centres have long waiting times. They have also announced that they will be setting up an online registration system, to ease queues at asylum centres.
All Ukrainian refugees and those fleeing the conflict can check for regular updates on the State Secretariat for Migration’s website.
Additional housing prepared for Ukrainian refugees
For the SEM, the main priority now is to make sure there is enough room for Ukrainians to stay in Switzerland. As of March 14, 3.843 Ukrainians have been registered at federal facilities, and while Bach said that there was still enough room, it will not be long before government-run facilities are full.
To accommodate the estimated 60.000 Ukrainians that will end up in Switzerland, non-governmental organisations have been moving to fill the gap and provide safe accommodation. Organisations like the Swiss Refugee Council and Campax have been arranging accommodation in private housing and with host families.
So far, the Swiss Refugee Council has arranged 45.000 private beds to be available for refugees, along with 5.000 beds in hotels, hostels and other facilities. Alongside this effort, many Swiss families have also offered their services, with 35.000 offering up a bed in the first week alone.
80 million Swiss francs in aid sent to Ukraine
The government has also announced that it would spend 80 million Swiss francs on relief efforts in Ukraine and in surrounding countries. This is on top of the 500 tonnes of aid already sent to Ukraine, Poland and Moldova. 25 percent of the money will go to help Ukrainian refugees currently in neighbouring countries, while 75 percent will go to those still in Ukraine.
This is alongside continued sanctions against Russia, which Switzerland imposed in the wake of the invasion. The country has not ruled out additional sanctions on Russian individuals and institutions, which would likely be imposed in tandem with the European Union.
See how you can help Ukrainian refugees in Switzerland
Housing a Ukrainian refugee is one of the many ways people in Switzerland can help the humanitarian effort. For more information on how to get involved, check out our guide.