Switzerland aims to protect refugees and give them the chance of a brighter future

Article, 16.09.2016

Switzerland is taking part in the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants on 19 September. Eduard Gnesa, Special Ambassador for International Cooperation on Migration Issues, talks about the challenges facing the international community as a result of the refugee situation. 

Children and young people from different countries walking in a line.
More and more children and young people are fleeing their homes and countries alone, and this is a challenge for Switzerland. © Keystone

Eduard Gnesa
© Keystone

Eduard Gnesa

Special Ambassador for International Cooperation on Migration Issues

«If we don't start tackling the root causes of migration at a global level now, millions more people will be forced to flee their homes.»

What kind of international challenges does Switzerland expect with regard to refugees and migration?

You only have to look at the newspapers to see the challenges we face. There are more refugees and internally displaced people now than there have been at any time since the Second World War. This means people who have been forced to leave their homes due to armed conflicts and other reasons. Many are children and young people who are increasingly fleeing their countries alone. And what we see in the media is only part the story when we think of the tens of thousands of South Sudanese, for example, who have fled to Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya since mid-July, do not even make it into our news.

For Switzerland, this is a multifaceted challenge. We want to grant the necessary protection in Switzerland through the asylum system, but we also want to guarantee protection in countries of origin, prevent further refugee situations and where possible give refugees the chance of a brighter future in the countries of first refuge. This is where the efforts of the SDC, as well as other actors, such as the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), the FDFA's Human Security Division (HSD) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), come in.

How does the international refugee summit fit in with the work of the FDFA?

The current flows of refugees pose a global challenge. No country can take sustainable action alone. We need a system of cooperation based on solidarity at regional and global level. The United Nations Summit has bolstered these efforts. But we still have a great deal of work to do as the causes of migration will not disappear overnight. We mustn't let that deter us – if we don't start tackling this issue at a global level now, millions more people will be forced to leave their homes and risk their lives on perilous journeys.

The FDFA has various instruments it can use to implement the resolutions of the UN Summit. The SDC's Humanitarian Aid Department and its development cooperation not only aim to guarantee protection and support for refugees and internally displaced people, but also to offer long-term prospects for the populations concerned. For instance, a vocational training project in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya, aims to facilitate access to the local labour market for refugees. When providing aid to displaced persons, the local population also needs to be involved and supported in order to avoid tensions and allow social integration. So, for example, the SDC-funded project to renovate schools in Jordan and Lebanon therefore also benefits local children.

Meanwhile, the SDC's development efforts must tackle the causes of forced displacement in the longer term in conjunction with the peace and human rights policy initiatives of the HSD. This involves supporting peace processes, for example in Ukraine and Syria, and working to ensure better compliance with international law.

At the Summit, there were calls for new forms of cooperation, including with the private sector. Switzerland intends to incorporate this more extensively in its efforts and to seek suitable partnerships with the private sector. In the field of migration in general, but also in situations of forced displacement, private companies can provide various types of support. They can create jobs, implement practical solutions like the ’Better Shelter’ initiative of the UNHCR and IKEA, and provide technologies, e.g. in the area of IT and solar power. Switzerland will also continue to provide substantial funding to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN agencies, and will support civil society in crisis regions.

How do the various actors within the Confederation work together?

Cooperation is organised through the existing Interdepartmental Structure for International Cooperation on Migration (ICM). This is headed by the SEM, the HSD and the SDC and brings together actors from all relevant departments. This is of pivotal importance to ensure that Swiss foreign policy on migration is coherent and that developments in domestic policy are adequately taken into account. The ICM structure is a mechanism that allows the strategic use of all foreign policy instruments in order to achieve Switzerland's goals in the area of migration as efficiently as possible.

A central instrument here are migration partnerships. They allow us to work with our partners to find constructive solutions for the various challenges and also to utilise the opportunities afforded by migration more effectively. Switzerland's participation in the various forums of the international migration dialogue is also coordinated across departments. Since the launch of the Bern Initiative 15 years ago, Switzerland has always played an active role in promoting multilateral dialogue in the area of migration. This is set to remain a focus of Switzerland's foreign policy on migration, which in turn will strengthen the role of Geneva as the centre of the international dialogue on migration.