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Switzerland: interreligious appeal for refugees, “standing before us is always a human being”

This is the first time that Christians, Jews and Muslims in Switzerland have made a joint appeal for refugees. In a joint declaration, they have called for an appropriate refugee protection policy, legal access routes, “fair and effective” asylum procedures, and pathways for integration. In a Europe that is increasingly closing its doors and borders to those fleeing their countries, Jews, Christians and Muslims in Switzerland have decided to unite their voices and publish a joint 15-page Declaration entitled “Standing before us is always a human being”. The Document will be submitted in Bern to the vice-president of the National Council, Marina Carobbio Guscetti (SP); backing the initiative is also Anja Klug, head of the UNHCR Office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, who spoke of a “flagship project” which – she hopes – will inspire also other countries. According to the Document, 68 million people in the world are fleeing their homelands, half of them children, and while in Lebanon there is one refugee every four inhabitants, statistics show that in European countries there is on average one refugee every 400 inhabitants. Furthermore, the main European host countries have “weak reception and protection mechanisms” and pursue “increasingly rigid policies” that force refugees into a “precarious legal position”, the so-called “no-right zone”. The Declaration also outlines the “religious and ethical” principles for which religions take the side of refugees: “For Jews, Christians and Muslims, every human being is a creature of God; as such, s/he is placed under His protection”. Having explained this, the religious leaders stressed five key points. They called for adequate protection for all refugees, wherever they are, and for “legal access routes” with the introduction of humanitarian visas to avoid their flight becoming a nightmare and ending up in illegal trafficking, slavery, and often death. The Declaration also called for “fair and effective asylum procedures”, which means the “criteria that require proof of persecution should not be too strict”. As for the integration pathways, the Document insisted on the refugees’ obligation to respect both the laws of the host country and its constitutional values and local rules. The fifth point stressed that if a refugee does not meet the requirements to stay, s/he is still entitled to a “dignified repatriation”; any expulsion, however, should always be regarded as a last-resort measure and should preferably be avoided in the case of families, especially out of concern for the wellbeing of children. The interreligious Declaration was signed by all the members of the Swiss Council of Religions.

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