Some in Bern hatched a plan to build accommodation out of shipping containers to cope with the expected influx of refugees into Switzerland. However, this week, the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house, rejected a funding request for the plan, reported SRF.
The Council of States had already spoken out against the idea last week before parliament voted in favour of it on 1 June 2023. On 6 June 2023, the Council of States, true to its word, voted 23 to 19 to reject the CHF 133 million loan required to fund the project.
The plan would have used converted shipping containers as accommodation at several locations across the country. Container accommodation has been created for asylum seekers across Europe as many nations struggle to house new arrivals. Switzerland, with a home vacancy rate of 1.31%, has one of the tightest housing markets in Europe. Only Iceland has a lower rate. The rates in France and Germany are around 8%, according to the OECD.
Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) expects 27,000 new asylum requests this year not including those arriving from Ukraine, a level not seen since 2015. SEM estimates military and civil defence buildings can accommodate a further 5,000 to 10,000 refugees, a figure well short of the number it expects to arrive.
Arguments against the container plan included using existing civil defence infrastructure first. Only when these resources are exhausted should money be spent on building new capacity. In addition, it was argued that creating more accommodation would encourage more refugees to come.
Others argued for a preemptive approach to avoid refugees ending up on the streets.
The refusal of the plan will further complicate the relationship between the federal government and cantons on the issue. The federal government allocates refugees to the cantons, that must then find accommodation for them. The cantons have said they want to keep civil defence capacity in reserve and have been pushing the federal government to help with the continued influx. However, the federal government is struggling with its finances having recently signed off on a negative budget for 2022. The Council of States refusal partly reflects this reality.
SRF article (in German)