Humanitarian tradition

For centuries, people who have been persecuted for religious or political reasons have sought protection in Switzerland. The reason for this lies not only in Switzerland’s geographical position but just as much so in the political, religious and cultural diversity of the country.

The asylum situation has changed somewhat since the early 1980s. The number of asylum applications has increased considerably, as has the number of countries from which asylum seekers come. Many of them originate from Sri Lanka, Turkey, Iraq, the Balkans, and from various African nations – a result of greater mobility and globalisation. During the war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, Switzerland admitted nearly 30,000 refugees. This number increased to 53,000 during the Kosovo conflict between 1998 and 1999. Since the Millennium there have been marked fluctuations in the number of people seeking asylum in Switzerland. Requests for asylum stabilised at around 20,000 annually in the early 2000s, falling to around half this number in the middle of the decade, before rising again thereafter. Between 20,000 and 28,000 asylum applications submitted were each year from 2011, with the exception of 2015, when a record 39,500 applications were made as extraordinarily large numbers of migrants entered Europe. This was the greatest number since the end of the Balkan wars. In the following years the annual number of asylum applications again fell sharply, and in 2017 was below 20,000.

A Syrian family with three children get on a bus at Zurich airport along with other resettlement refugees.
A group of resettlement refugees get on a bus at Zurich airport. (photo: SEM © Gerry Amstutz)

Since 2013, Switzerland has increased its involvement in the UNHCR resettlement programme, which is aimed at particularly vulnerable people in an asylum country who have received refugee status from the UNHCR. In 2016 and 2017, Switzerland also took part in the EU’s relocation programme, in which asylum seekers who are already registered in Greece or Italy are transferred to other European states. This programme aims to relieve the burden on these two countries situated on the edge of Europe, both signatories to the Dublin Agreement, which have to deal with particularly high numbers of asylum seekers.


Last modification 01.03.2019

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