"No one leaves home and family just like that. You must be so desperate that you are not even fazed by the thought of drowning in the Mediterranean. What matters is that you have tried to find a better life elsewhere and to avoid turning to crime, despite adversity."
This is how an acquaintance explained to me a year ago why he fled his North African homeland for Switzerland. He was sent back there a few months ago.
There are now several hundred refugees in Como on Switzerland's southern border, including many unaccompanied minors. They make almost daily attempts to cross the Swiss border, either to find refuge here or to travel on to Germany or Scandinavia. As we know, only a small number of them manage to cross the border.
In mid-2016 there were about 33,000 asylum seekers in Switzerland. In addition, there were over 73,000 recognized refugees and temporarily admitted persons. They currently represent a mere 0.9% of Switzerland's resident population. Yet the "refugee crisis" is causing a stir in Switzerland. A few facts would be a useful input to this discussion.
First, according to UN statistics, there are currently over 65 million people worldwide fleeing war, political persecution or economic despair. Of these, 40 million are still in their own country as "internally displaced persons". This constitutes an enormous challenge for the still peaceful parts of the country where they take refuge. Lack of foreign support could lead to instability and poverty in these regions.
Second, of the over 20 million refugees who have left their own country, less than one-fifth have fled to rich industrialized countries. Over 80% have found refuge in other developing countries, and a quarter of them even in some of the world's poorest countries. In Chad for example, there are currently over 350,000 refugees, who make up some 2.6% of that country's population. In Lebanon, the roughly 1.2 million refugees account for as much as 18.3% of the resident population, or 18 times more than in Switzerland.
Third, some developing countries are finding it less difficult than us to integrate foreign refugees. Uganda, for example, is currently home to roughly half a million people who have fled their countries, and hence the third major country of refuge in Africa after Ethiopia and Kenya. Those accorded refugee status are given a piece of agricultural land in local communities, the same access as Ugandans to public services, a work permit and the right to set up their own business. The country is nonetheless dependent on international support, for here too, immigration is placing enormous strains on public infrastructure.
It is hard to understand that so many in the Swiss Parliament want to finance the rising cost of caring for asylum seekers here in Switzerland by cutting development aid funding, of all things. It should be clear that poor countries taking in substantially more refugees than ours, need our support more than ever.