The reception of Ukrainian refugees in Switzerland could be the largest in decades

A sign, written in English and Ukrainian, directs people to a reception center for refugees in Zurich. © Keystone / Michael Buholzer

According to a report by the NZZ am Sonntag, Switzerland could end up taking in many more Ukrainian refugees than government authorities had initially estimated. The education system will have to adapt.

This content was published on March 20, 2022 – 15:00


The Alpine nation is expected to experience the largest influx of refugees in decades, the German-language weekly notes in its Sunday edition.

Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter has calculated that 50,000 refugees could reach Switzerland by June. But the cantonal authorities in charge of managing the new arrivals expect no less than 300,000 refugees to arrive in Switzerland by the end of the year.

Between 500 and 1,000 Ukrainian refugees arrive in Switzerland every day as a result of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The cantons must adapt to this situation, according to Marcel Suter, president of the cantonal migration authorities, quoted by the newspaper.

The conflict in Ukraine has triggered mass displacement at a level and speed not seen in Europe since World War II. More than 3 million Ukrainians have fled their country in less than a month, including some 1.5 million children, according to the latest figures.

On Sunday, the Swiss media also paid attention to the potential challenge of integrating Ukrainian students. Currently, 200 Ukrainian students are studying in Switzerland. This number could reach 20,000 in the coming months.

Students in lack of integration

Le Matin Dimanche notes that a shortage of teachers will complicate efforts to integrate new Ukrainian students.

“For several years, we have been experiencing a latent shortage at all levels,” Samuel Rohrbach, president of the French-speaking teachers’ union, told the newspaper. “Add to that the effects of the health crisis, the continued isolation, the fatigue. We need additional staff and they don’t come overnight.

Elsbeth Stern, professor of education at ETH Zurich, agrees. “Accommodating children who don’t understand any national language pushes schools to their limits,” she told SonntagsZeitung.

The number of children attending school in certain cantons could increase by 5 to 10%. This is according to Dagmar Rösler, president of the union of German language teachers, quoted in the NZZ am Sonntag,

Many classes could soon accommodate one or two Ukrainian children, she said, calling for adequate psychological support measures to be put in place.

Some cantons will call on retired teachers, university students or ask part-timers if they agree to increase their rates, reports Le Matin Dimanche. The cantons are also asking Ukrainian adults trained in teaching to contact them to identify opportunities for help in schools.

Before the Ukraine crisis, Switzerland was already expecting an increase in asylum applications for 2022. Around 14,500 asylum applications were submitted in 2021.

The recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and three coups in West Africa have also contributed to the increase in the number of displaced people in the world.

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