Mon 27/06/2022 - 11:30

On 8 May 2022, the second edition of the Swiss Refugee Parliament took place in Bern. The aim of this event? To give a platform to refugees to debate and draw attention to some of the issues they are closely dealing with through their personal experiences. We have met with Anja Klug, Head of Office for UNHCR in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, to tell us more about it.

What is the Swiss refugee parliament?  

The Swiss refugee parliament is an institution of refugees that are developing recommendations for Swiss politics.   

Why is it important to have such a platform for refugees to participate in political debates?  

It is very important that refugees have come together to share and engage on issues that affect them. Often refugees are not allowed around the table. Participating in this way and getting together is strengthening their voice and allowing them to be heard by politicians. It is also a whole process that is important. Refugees shared and discussed around many issues they are facing, they made a list of recommendations and established priorities. They followed a democratic process to identify the most important issues and to develop recommendations that are not too broad. That way, it is also a good exercise in democratic and civic culture.  

Do you think that the fact that the participants are refugees gives another dimension to the debates?  

The participants are all refugees, and it is certainly an initiative that allows them to give recommendations, to start a dialogue with parliamentarians and also with Swiss authorities. I think it is a very good idea and we have already seen after the first edition of the parliament that the participants have had meetings with Swiss parliamentarians to present their recommendations. So there is a whole follow-up process afterwards, which shows the added value of this event.   

Can you give us some examples of proposals that came out of this event?  

There are a lot of issues that are important to them. For instance, one of them was the temporary admission, which affects most of them. They turned the spotlight on the precariousness of this status and also to the limitations of the rights attached to it. I think it is very important that their voice is added to those of UNHCR and the NGOs that have already drawn attention to this for years. Their voice allows and points out with concrete examples from their lives how difficult it is to have this status, to have this provisory admission.   

How can we make these issues visible to the general public, but also to politicians?  

The fact that this parliament is taking place, is already giving a certain visibility as well as articles that have been published on the topic afterwards and the coverage on national television. UNHCR together with other actors, have supported refugees and also tried to increase media awareness of this event, as it’s so important to have a process like this.   

After two editions, what is your assessment?   

I found the first edition very well organised and prepared. All participants were very disciplined and the recommendations were well formulated. The second edition was even better, we saw how the group gained experience and also how they were able to learn from their networking with the parliamentarians. Now, ideally, it would be great to have a thorough follow-up on the recommendations and to have a session of the parliament every year. It is not that easy as organisation behind this event does not have many resources. We have provided a little financial support to the event, but this issue is likely to recur. I hope they will have sufficient means because this process has a lot of meaning, and can establish itself as an institution taken seriously at the political level if it takes place every year.   

What feedback have you received from the participants? And from politicians?  

I wouldn’t say feedback as such, because it wasn't an event that we organised. I was invited and was very happy to be able to attend a part of this. I spoke to some of the refugees who participated and they were very happy to have the opportunity to organise this parliament for the second time because it was not clear at the beginning if it was just a one-off event or if it was something that would be repeated.