A month ago the FDFA launched an unprecedented repatriation operation in cooperation with Swiss, Edelweiss und Helvetic. The first flight departed Zurich on March 22 for San José (Costa Rica). Since then, the FDFA's Crisis Management Centre (KMZ) has organised 35 flights from all parts of the world. Thirty-three flights to Switzerland have been completed successfully, allowing 6950 persons stranded abroad, including 3974 Swiss citizens, to return home. The remaining 2976 passengers are citizens of foreign countries, two third European ones. About one third of these foreigners reside in Switzerland. At the same time, over 1500 Swiss nationals have returned home on flights organised by other countries. A further special flight from India is scheduled to depart from Kolkata, with a stopover in Kochi, for Zurich, where it will land on Sunday morning. A final return flight from Africa is planned for Wednesday to bring home Swiss nationals from Accra (Ghana), Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).
The repatriation flights would have been impossible without the professionalism and hard work of the FDFA's network of representations. The efforts of Swiss embassy and consulate staff, working in close cooperation with local authorities, proved decisive in obtaining the necessary flight permits, means of transportation and clearances to enable Swiss nationals scattered around the world, in some cases in remote areas, to reach the airports from which the flights departed.
Passengers pay their own way home
The Swiss government has already covered the total cost of approximately CHF 10 million for the repatriation flights. Repatriated individuals will be expected to contribute to the operation by paying the equivalent of the market rate for a standard fare.
Like other European states that have organised repatriation flights, the FDFA will invoice passengers a flat rate calculated on the basis of the distance travelled. Passengers will contribute CHF 400 for short flights (up to 1,500km), CHF 600 for medium-distance flights (1,500–3,500km) and CHF 1,100 for long-distance flights (over 3,500km) towards the cost of the operation. Passengers on long-haul flights exceeding 12,000km will pay CHF 1,700.
This cost-sharing contribution will cover about 80% of the entire operation. The FDFA will contribute to the remaining 20%.
Stepped up consular assistance
Despite the scale of the repatriation operation, it will not be possible to bring home all Swiss nationals stranded abroad. Reports from Swiss embassies around the world indicate that several hundred Swiss citizens who wish to return to Switzerland but are unable to do so. Swiss embassies and consulates are ready to offer consular assistance to them and to other Swiss citizens residing abroad who are currently in urgent need of help. The FDFA will review each request for assistance on a case-by-case basis. Acting through its representations abroad, the FDFA will provide assistance to Swiss citizens in need and where necessary grant appropriate emergency loans to Swiss nationals who are unable to provide for themselves or obtain financial assistance from the local authorities.
Like many other countries, Switzerland has temporarily stopped issuing visas. As social distancing restrictions are eased to open up the economy and allow the return of tourists to Switzerland, it will be important to start processing and issuing visas again. The FDFA is working closely with the State Secretariat for Migration and other stakeholders to allow the resumption of business, educational and tourist travel worldwide as appropriate and as soon as possible. This is of vital importance for the Swiss economy, for research and for International Geneva.
FDFA Helpline receives unprecedented number of requests for assistance
In the few weeks since the COVID-19 crisis began last month, the FDFA Helpline has received an unprecedented number of requests for assistance, with over 10,000 phone calls and some 18,000 emails. During peak periods, up to 850 telephone calls and 1,000 emails have been received each day. In normal times, the Helpline – which provides assistance and information to Swiss citizens abroad around the clock, seven days a week – handles around 50,000 requests for help per year.
The three phases of the repatriation operation
• As provided for by the Swiss Abroad Act, during the first weeks of the pandemic, the FDFA called on Swiss citizens to assume personal responsibility and make arrangements with travel agencies and commercial airlines to return to Switzerland.
• During the second phase, the FDFA organised charter flights to bring Swiss citizens back to Switzerland who were unable to organise their journey home independently because of grounded airline fleets and closed borders worldwide.
• During phase three, when return flights are no longer possible, the FDFA is providing all possible and appropriate consular assistance to Swiss citizens and travelers abroad.
Address for enquiries:
Federal Palace West Wing
CH-3003 Bern, Switzerland
Tel.: +41 58 462 31 53