Boosting Swiss support in Bosnia and Greece

In October 2021 Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter and State Secretary Mario Gattiker visited Bosnia and Greece. These two nations play a key role in the management of migration movements in Europe. We asked three questions about the importance of the journey of Olivia Finger, who was in charge of the journey.

How did the journey go and who took part? Pfeil nach unten

Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter was accompanied by State Secretary for Migration Mario Gattiker, members of her General Secretariat and a representative of SEM. The itinerary was intensive and included official visits, informal discussions with local people and field visits.

The journey started in Sarajevo in the late afternoon of 20 October 2021. Bosnia is a major transit country for migrants trying to reach Europe. In recent years, the country has become a bottleneck for people on the Western Balkan route, as the well-protected border with Croatia makes it extremely difficult to continue the journey. It therefore faces major challenges, particularly over how to deal with these migrants, most of whom wish to leave the country as soon as possible to continue their journey to Western Europe. In the course of talks with the Bosnian authorities and a visit to a reception centre near Sarajevo, we could see the efforts being made to ensure adequate care for these migrants.

In the early afternoon of 21 October, the delegation arrived in Athens. Greece plays a central role not only in managing the external borders of the Schengen area but also in receiving and registering asylum seekers. On the island of Lesbos, we visited the temporary camp set up as an emergency response to the fire in the Moria camp in September 2020. Although challenges remain, the situation there has improved significantly over the past year and there is clear evidence of efforts to improve reception structures and to relieve pressure on the camp.

What is SEM doing locally? Pfeil nach unten

Switzerland has been an active partner in managing migration in Bosnia since 2009. The migration partnership provides an opportunity to discuss the challenges facing our two countries and to develop joint solutions, particularly on asylum and border management. During the trip, we visited the Usivak centre near Sarajevo, which accommodates families, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable persons. The Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit supports in health matters and pandemic prevention, for example by providing protective equipment. The centre is jointly managed by the IOM and the SFA, SEM’s main partner in the migration partnership.

Switzerland has played an active role in Greece since the 2015/2016 migration crisis. Several projects have been funded by the SEM in recent years, such as reception centres for unaccompanied minor migrants. During the visit, we were also able to visit a centre for young migrant women in Athens which could be set up thanks to Swiss funding.

What are the challenges in managing the migration issue locally? Pfeil nach unten

Each of these two countries plays a key role in managing migration flows along the Balkan route. But the migration challenges are on a different level, not least for the reasons explained above.

The humanitarian situation in Bosnia caused particular concern during the winter of 2020/21 due to lack of shelter, poor hygiene and lack of food and water supplies. Since then, the situation has improved considerably and the national authorities are strongly committed to managing the situation of migrants. Bosnia is also trying to build capacity in assisted voluntary return and readmission, an area in which SEM has offered to provide expertise.

Since the reception and asylum system in Greece has improved, integrating migrants with international protection status is now the major challenge for the Greek authorities. With little prospect of integrating locally, many migrants leave Greece for other European countries. This issue was widely discussed during the visit. We hope that Switzerland will be able to cooperate with the Greek authorities in this area as well.

What were the aims of the journey and were they achieved? Pfeil nach unten

Ms Keller-Suter visited Bosnia and Greece personally in order to assess the migration challenges and promote Switzerland's support for the efforts of the Bosnian and Greek authorities. The meetings with the national authorities and local stakeholders helped us to better understand the issues involved and to identify the challenges in the medium term. Our visits to reception centres showed us how Switzerland is contributing in practical terms to the reception structures and to the care of vulnerable migrants. Finally, this visit allowed us to strengthen the already close cooperation between our countries and to identify possible areas where support can be focused going forward.

Fio visage
Olivia Finger, Head, Schengen, Dublin and Bilateral Affairs Section