The Swiss government has decided against receiving further refugees from Iraq, contrary to the wishes of the Geneva-based UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Swiss Radio International (SRI) reported on Thursday.
Bern "refused to accept new Iraqi refugees," preferring to help displaced Iraqi people on the spot, SRI quoted Swiss government spokesman Oswald Sigg as saying.
According to Swiss Justice and Police Minister Christoph Blocher, other European countries had also decided that accepting contingents of refugees was no solution to the problem.
"We already have 5,000 Iraqis in Switzerland and our country is in second place in Europe in accepting them," Blocher said.
The government's new decision was slashed by some parliamentarians. "It is shocking to see the government lock the doors in the face of such a large crisis," said Carlo Sommaruga, a Geneva member of the Swiss House of Representatives.
Representing the Social Democratic Party, Sommaruga said Blocher was brandishing the threat of a massive arrival of Iraqis in Switzerland, at a time when the UNHCR was talking of responding to a call to accept "minorities" who had not been able to go into refugee camps.
Switzerland announced in April at a UNHCR conference in Geneva that it was doubling its humanitarian aid to displaced Iraqi people and refugees to 4 million Swiss francs (about 3.27 million U.S. dollars).
During the meeting, the refugee agency called on rich countries to receive 20,000 "very vulnerable" Iraqis. These included people traumatized by the violence in the country, those who had been tortured, women and abandoned children.
The non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council urged the Swiss authorities to renew a humanitarian program to help alleviate the crisis.
"We appeal to the Swiss government to accept a regular contingent of Iraqi refugees from Iraq's neighboring countries," a statement said.