“I don’t see the difference, they all want to escape death and war”
Switzerland has activated the S migration regime for the first time, granting it to Ukrainian refugees. Asylum seekers from Arab, African and Asian countries, who have also fled from bloody wars and conflicts, have mixed feelings about this decision. The comments of our Arabic-speaking users show a full range of feelings and emotions, from shock, surprise and accusations of racism to complete understanding.
“I don’t understand what difference there should be between refugees from Syria, Central Africa or Afghanistan and refugees from Ukraine – they are all trying to escape death and war.” Despite full understanding of the seriousness of the events in Ukraine and the scale of the human tragedy unfolding in that country, Arab-speaking readers and users comment on the current Swiss “culture of hospitality” in different ways, some with distaste, some with understanding.
The main reason for discontent: the fact that Switzerland has, for the first time in its history, activated a special category S migration regime by granting it to Ukrainian refugees. With this extraordinary action, Switzerland demonstrated its unprecedented openness towards Ukrainian refugees. This legal status entered into force on 11 March 2022.
It was originally introduced during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure that the authorities could respond adequately, quickly and pragmatically to unexpected migration crises and other force majeure situations of a similar nature. It is now activated for the first time. In order not to overburden the asylum system, refugees from Ukraine are now granted asylum in a shortened format without having to go through the whole regular procedure.
This measure has provoked both understanding and positive assessments, as well as harsh criticism. Speaking on a programme on the Swiss TV channel SRF, Miriam Behrens, director of the left-wing Swiss organisation Schweizerische Flüchtlingshilfe, even used the term “legal inequality that now prevails” (in the field of asylum). Other refugees allegedly experience this inequality first-hand, for example when their own asylum procedure is delayed by the influx of Ukrainian refugees.
They, according to her, receive privileges on the basis of their S status which are not available to those who have only “Temporary Admitted” status (Category F residence permit). According to SRF TV this criticism has been voiced by many charitable organisations. The decision is also causing mixed feelings among many asylum seekers living in Switzerland from Arab, African and Asian countries who have also fled from bloody wars and destructive conflicts.
Is the war in Syria “kindergarten”?
So, one reader says: “Where was this help for those who came from the Middle East, from where the already disastrous wars have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of homeless?” And one Iraqi user adds: “Humanity means mercy and common sense, but it should apply to all suffering people, without preferring one ethnic group over another, because man is brother to man.”
The panellists also ask many questions, such as: “If we compare the Syrian case with the Ukrainian case, we find that people from both countries were forced to leave their homes to save their lives. So why do some receive a residence permit intended for those in need of protection (category S permit), while others receive only category B or F residence permits? Isn’t this racial discrimination? Where is your principle of equality and transparency?”.
A reader from Syria says: “The impression is that the war in Syria is just a kindergarten, which is why Syrians haven’t received anything. For another reader, the decision to activate S status means “not openness, but racial discrimination”. It is merely “openness towards people of the same skin colour and from the same culture. Of course, the authorities have every right to do so, but then, please stop pestering us with this perpetually jamming record about humanity and humanity.”
Anger was often mixed with frustration, expressed in rather harsh words. “Sadly the war in Ukraine has exposed the hypocrisy of the beautiful, civilised, humane West we so admire, it has exposed its fake civilised facade.” Some users went even further, stating: “It is quite clear that values in this world are implemented in a fragmented way, and that all the principles that Europeans have preached to us are nothing more than ink on paper.
People of different varieties?
Some of the asylum-seekers expectantly compare their conditions and the hardships they have experienced in Switzerland for years with the conditions now afforded to Ukrainian refugees. “What about the refugees who still do not have a residence permit, who are not even allowed to buy a SIM card or visit their families only a few kilometres away?” Another user is annoyed with the Swiss justice and justice system: “Frankly, I wouldn’t even wish residence permit F on my enemy. But clearly double standards and injustice are phenomena that exist systematically in the Swiss justice system.”
There are other users who are more understanding and try to compare the Ukrainian situation with their own in a balanced way. “Europeans are welcome in Europe, but newcomers from other countries are not welcome here, even if they also risk dying from atrocities in the war. And if they are welcomed, they are only reluctantly and with very difficult working and daily living conditions. But we cannot blame the Europeans, because even the Arab states have not accepted these refugees and have subjected them to massive pressure. Racism comes mainly from those closest to us.” And when some Arabic-speaking Swiss recalled that the majority of Ukrainian refugees are women and children, one commentator responded to the argument as follows:
“Following pragmatic principles and materialistic views, one might understand this, but according to universal humanitarian standards, every displaced person and refugee fleeing war, environmental disaster or unjust persecution has the right to safety, shelter and continued life (not necessarily integration) regardless of colour or nationality. This is a fundamental human right. But as long as people are selectively selected, you have no right to talk about ‘high human values’.” Another commentator writes: “I think Switzerland should reconsider its decisions to grant category F residence permits to people who have lived permanently in Switzerland for more than six years.
If Switzerland is a racist country, then what should we call Russia?
The discussion between users also shows that Arab refugees already living in Switzerland see many things very differently. Their sympathy for the new refugees is evident. “May God make their journey easier. Thank God we are here, we have jobs and we don’t lack anything. This or that category of residence permit doesn’t change anything here.” Another added that “Switzerland (by its actions) is now teaching a lesson to Arab states that have not received any persecuted people at all. One user goes even further: “European sympathy for the Ukrainian people is a perfect example for Arab and Muslim businessmen and rich people to learn from.
Speaking of Syrian refugees, one commentator reminds us that “Switzerland has also opened its doors to Syrians. Thousands of Syrian refugees have already arrived in Switzerland. There are even people here who have been granted a B (Latin letter) residence permit without going to court, having already managed to move into their private accommodation”. Many refer to their own experience. “I studied in Swiss schools, worked with Swiss people, and I have always known them only as the most sincere, loyal and moral people. Peace and humanity flow in their veins like the Rhine in their cities. If Switzerland is a racist country, then what should we call the Arab countries, Russia, China, Korea or America?”
One of the questions that Arab-speaking readers keep asking the authorities and the Swiss public is: “Will there be any compassion for refugees from third world countries in the future here, or do Swiss democracy and civil liberties require that people be necessarily classified according to their origin?” Etienne Piguet, vice president of the Federal Migration Commission (Eidgenössische Migrationskommission), pointed out recently in his blog:
“The claim that openness towards victims of the war in Ukraine would constitute some kind of racist disassociation from Syrian, Afghan or Yemeni refugees should be carefully analysed and examined, and there are a number of reasons for this. We can only dream for now that the time will come when sympathy and hospitality will overcome all distances and barriers, but we must be careful not to let the solidarity of our compatriots be struck in the name of lofty ideals.”
Sarah Progin-Theuerkauf, professor at the University of Fribourg and legal expert, looks to the future with some optimism. “Maybe the Swiss will see that this S-category residence permit does work one way or another, but that it will be much easier to use in the future,” she pointed out recently in an interview with SWI swissinfo.ch. “I hope that the solidarity that the Swiss feel towards the Ukrainians will have a positive effect on other refugees as well. They, too, have lost their homes and their roots, so they are in exactly the same situation.