During their meeting, Ms Sommaruga and Mr Grandi discussed the situation in Turkey where Switzerland provides funding for the UNHCR's programme to support refugees on the ground and the Turkish authorities. Both welcomed the European Commission's proposals to further develop the European asylum system, stating the need for a system in which all countries share responsibility.
Ms Sommaruga highlighted the successful cooperation with the UNHCR in the area of resettlement projects: following Switzerland’s commitment to participate voluntarily in resettlement, by the beginning of June more than 1,000 people from the crisis-stricken areas around Syria had come to Switzerland, while a further 500 will follow by the end of the year. Switzerland is also supporting the UNHCR in Greece, last year providing CHF 500,000 towards the organisation’s activities in the area of reception and care for migrants. In addition, the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) has sent a number of humanitarian experts principally to oversee the construction of facilities for the migrants.
Grave concern for human lives
Ms Sommaruga and Mr Grandi also talked about the current situation in the central Mediterranean. They expressed their grave concern over the individual stories of people in Libya and the Mediterranean, urging that Europe do more to prevent such tragedies from taking place. Ms Sommaruga stated that Switzerland was ready to support projects on the ground in Libya. She explained that even though the situation was very difficult because of the political instability there, Switzerland was taking part in a project run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to help refugees that were either particularly vulnerable or had been detained to return voluntarily to their home country.
Switzerland maintains regular dialogue with the UNHCR via the governing bodies, SDC cooperation offices and bilateral meetings with the agency's headquarters. There are 57 Swiss staff working at the UNHCR in addition to the SHA specialists.
Meeting with FDFA State Secretary Yves Rossier
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees also met with representatives of the FDFA in Bern. During his meeting with the FDFA State Secretary Yves Rossier, the two men discussed a number of subjects including the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Syria and Iraq. Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Switzerland has committed CHF 250 million for humanitarian aid in Syria and its neighbouring countries. CHF 50 million of this is earmarked for 2016. They also talked about the outcome of the World Humanitarian Summit that took place last week in Istanbul, where Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter launched an appeal for greater commitment to helping people in need. For Switzerland, Mr Grandi’s visit was an opportunity to reiterate its commitment to one of the country's major humanitarian partners.
Mr Grandi, who took up his current post just five months ago, thanked Switzerland for its support. In addition to Swiss funding, the UNHCR also benefits from Swiss expertise in the field with SHA specialists working to provide civilian protection and access to food, water and shelter. Last year 24 SHA specialists worked as part of UNHCR operations.
At a time when the number of forcibly displaced people exceeded 60 million worldwide, only around 50% of the UNHCR's global budget for last year was funded. Mr Grandi expressed his concern about this gap between humanitarian needs and the resources at their disposal, adding that UNHCR operations were taking place in increasingly difficult and dangerous contexts. He also referred to the agency's programmes in response to the crisis in Syria and noted the growing impact of the crisis on the neighbouring countries that today host more than 4.8 million Syrian refugees.
For his part Mr Rossier stated that Switzerland intends to step up dialogue with the UNHCR on the ground with a particular focus on gender-based violence and child protection. Before being received by the State Secretary, Mr Grandi met with many FDFA representatives including the director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Manuel Sager; the Federal Council delegate for Swiss Humanitarian Aid, Manuel Bessler; and the head of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations Office and to the other international organisations in Geneva, Alexandre Fasel.
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