In addition, Switzerland's involvement in international migration policy in 2019 was also aimed at improving the protection of migrants on the ground. At the same time, Switzerland intends to take a longer-term approach to the complex causes of irregular migration and flight. In doing so, the Confederation acted in line with the strategic linking of Swiss interests in the migration sector with international cooperation (IC). In 2019, a total of over CHF 200 million was invested in migration-related contexts. In the year under review, the focus was on West and Central Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, the migration route from the Horn of Africa to Libya and the Western Balkans.
A focal point in 2019 was Libya, where the precarious situation of refugees and migrants was further exacerbated by the resumption of fighting. The focus of Switzerland's commitment in the area of migration was on protective measures on the ground. In addition, Switzerland agreed to take over a group of up to 50 refugees evacuated from Libya.
The Middle East was also of great importance, where the situation remained tense due to the unresolved Syrian conflict. More than 5.5 million displaced persons continue to remain in Syria's neighbouring countries. In 2019, Switzerland spent a total of CHF 61 million to support the suffering population in the region. A special focus in the area of migration and protection continued to be on Lebanon, the country with the proportionally highest number of refugees in the world.
Bilateral and regional cooperation
Within the framework of bilateral cooperation, Switzerland continued work on the implementation of existing migration partnerships and pushed ahead with negotiations for the conclusion of new migration and readmission agreements. The readmission and visa facilitation agreements signed with Ukraine in 2017 entered into force on 1 March 2019. As a result of the agreement in the area of return between Switzerland, Afghanistan and the UNHCR, it was possible to carry out involuntary repatriations again in March 2019 after an 18-month interruption.
At the European level, Switzerland has repeatedly advocated reform of the European asylum system in the context of its association with Schengen and Dublin. Switzerland has long been committed to a balanced and crisis-resistant Dublin system and to strengthening the protection of the European external border and the associated containment of irregular migration. It has also continued its bilateral cooperation in the area of migration with European states that have been particularly called upon - namely Greece and Italy. Within this framework, Switzerland is offering its assistance for the development of more robust asylum structures, improved return and reintegration procedures in the countries of origin, and increased reception capacities for refugees.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Switzerland hosted the first Refugee Forum in Geneva in 2019. At this forum, measures were discussed to ensure international protection, reduce pressure on host countries, strengthen the independence of refugees on the ground and find sustainable solutions.
The report identifies new challenges in the area of migration and refugees due to the coronavirus pandemic and the emerging effects of the global health and economic crisis. Switzerland will adapt its migration foreign policy instruments and activities accordingly. With its interdepartmental structure on international migration policy, it is well placed to do so in order to ensure a rapid, flexible and coordinated approach. The strategic link between international cooperation and migration policy is to be strengthened in the IC Strategy 2021-2024.