Tuesday 27 September 2016

Switzerland 'could house 50,000 refugees' in its Cold War bunkers

David Kearns

Published 02/10/2015 | 18:21

The entrance to a former Swiss bunker built in the Alps during the Cold War Credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images
The entrance to a former Swiss bunker built in the Alps during the Cold War Credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Switzerland's network of nuclear bunkers could house up to 50,000 refugees, the country’s defence minister said.

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During the Cold War, Switzerland sought to ensure it had enough fallout shelters that a sizeable amount of its population could safely retreat underground if there was a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the West.

Around one third the country’s emergency public bunkers are still fully operational, meaning 50,000 asylum seekers could be given temporary shelter Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said on Thursday.

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“The situation would be messy, and not geared for several months… but we could provide a roof over their heads and warm soup to tens of thousands of people.” he said during a meeting with military personnel in Canton Bern.”

Mr Maurer said around one-third of Switzerland’s public bunkers were currently in a position to take in refugees.

Currently the bunkers are used for a number of purposes.

The inside of one of Switzerland's Cold War bunkers - many are currently used as cheap hotels and shelter for the homeless
The inside of one of Switzerland's Cold War bunkers - many are currently used as cheap hotels and shelter for the homeless

One in the small town of Sevelen was run as a “zero-star hotel” for some years, while the city of Geneva has used its bunkers as homeless shelters.  

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The public bunkers were designed for the minority of Swiss citizens who did not have access to a bunker in their own home.

Under building obligations, the majority of Swiss homes have their own bunkers.

The country has the capacity to shelter its entire population of 8 million, with hundreds of thousands of places to spare.

So far, Switzerland has not seen the arrival of large numbers of refugees like Austria or Hungary, and the defence minister said he was optimistic that would continue to be the case.

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“[However] we can’t rule out the possibility Switzerland could become a destination within days or hours,” he warned.

Switzerland is set to take in some 5,000 refugees in the next two years on the condition the Dublin system remains in place.

Wherein, an refugee must seek asylum in the European Union member state where they first arrive.

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