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Is the Abacha accord a model for returning ‘dictator funds’?

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 12:00
A recent Swiss agreement with Nigeria and the World Bank to return hundreds of millions in so-called “Abacha funds” is being hailed as a model for how other countries deal with dictators’ assets. But civil society organisations in both Switzerland and Nigeria have reservations. Switzerland has been working for several years to clean up its image as a haven for “dirty money”, having returned more than CHF2 billion ($2.1 billion) in stolen assets since 1986. The latest example is $321 million that has already been transferred from Switzerland to a Nigerian government account, part of assets stolen by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha (1993-98) and his family. With World Bank oversight, the funds will be used to finance Nigeria’s National Social Safety Net Project involving cash transfers to Nigerians living below the poverty line. “I think it is a good model for other countries,” says Juliet Ibekaku, special assistant to the Nigerian president on justice reform, “because it ...
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What is done to keep Geneva homeless warm in freezing weather

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 11:06
Geneva is better known as being a sophisticated, wealthy city, but in its doorways and underpasses sleep homeless people, even when temperatures are sub-zero. Just a short distance from top hotels where rich people are living it up, poor people sleep in grubby sleeping bags, not knowing where their next meals are coming from.  But help is at hand. Two civil protection shelters, built as nuclear bunkers, are opened in winter for homeless people, providing 200 places. For a few nights at least, they have a roof over their heads, a bed and some warmth.  Open from mid-November to the end of March, these Cold War relics were intended to house the people of Geneva in the case of a nuclear strike. Today they serve as dormitories. Doors open at 7.15pm, the guests eat soup, take a shower, talk for a while and then go to bed. And in the morning, after breakfast, everyone has to leave at 8.15am.  Not everyone in these shelters find their own way there. The city sends social workers out on ...
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Should Switzerland hold the Olympic Games?

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 12:47
With the Winter Olympics now over, the attention in Switzerland has turned to the bid to bring the 2026 games to the Swiss town of Sion. Is this really such a good idea?  Switzerland's Olympic team ended up with 15 medals in Pyeongchang, South Korea – five gold, six silver, and four bronze medals - four more than what they were aiming for, and the same number as 30 years ago in Calgary.  Has this sporting success reinforced Olympic spirit in the small alpine nation, which is also home to the International Olympic Committee (IOC)? swissinfo.ch asks locals in Arth-Goldau, an alpine town in central Switzerland, whether they think it’s a good idea for Switzerland to host the Olympic Games, and what they would mean for the country.  The Swiss Olympic Committee and the Swiss government are backing a joint proposal by Sion, the capital of canton Valais, to host the 2026 Winter Games spread across much of western Switzerland and based largely on existing infrastructure. Last October, ...
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How to kill a lobster: humanely, say the Swiss

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 12:00
A new regulation preventing cruelty to crustaceans comes into effect in Switzerland on Thursday, banning (among other things) the live boiling of lobsters. Good news for all God’s creatures or a step too far? The lobster sitting on the table in the Homard Bleu (Blue Lobster) restaurant near the United Nations in Geneva is, predictably, blue. It is also male – two small testes protrude from the soft underbelly – about six inches long, with deceptively small pincers that can sever a human finger. It is from Brittany, where such specimens are a speciality: smaller, bluer, tenderer, and pricier than their cousins lifted in industrial quantities from the waters of New England. This one is also alive, though not for long. Owner Frank Jaulin, another Breton, is explaining its imminent demise. First take the “pieu”, he says (a narrow stainless-steel stake with sharp tip); locate the small cross-sectional hollow on the creature’s back, above the brain (at this point he runs his hand ...
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UN expert: Switzerland must do more to combat ‘dirty money’

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 18:21
Despite progress in curbing illicit financial flows, Switzerland needs to do more to keep so-called ‘dirty money’ from entering its financial markets, such as tougher money laundering and tax evasion sanctions, a United Nations expert has declared.  “In recent years the Swiss Confederation has achieved progress in curbing illicit financial flows,” Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent expert on foreign debt and human rights, told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on Wednesday.  Good practices include the Foreign Illicit Assets Act, aimed at facilitating the freezing, confiscation and return of stolen assets from Swiss banks. Over the past 25 years, Switzerland has returned $2 billion (CHF1.88 billion), the authorities claim.  “However, there is still a need to strengthen the accountability, regulation and supervision of the Swiss financial market to prevent adverse human rights impacts caused by illicit financial flows and to prevent that funds of illicit origin be ...
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Younger skiers slip away from the Alpine slopes

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 17:52
Juggling two pairs of skis and a toddler for an after-lunch run down the slopes in the French Alpine village of Megève, a friend quips that, by now, technology innovators should have found an easier way to ski. Surely, she says, this is an industry ripe for disruption. Leisurely skiers like me would agree, even though, in reality, new technology has changed the sport, giving us parabolic and lighter equipment, comfier and warmer boots, faster and safer lifts, and plenty of artificial snow production to make up for poor weather. There is further disruption on the way, but it is driven less by technology than demographics. The industry, it seems, is having its moment of existential angst. There has been more than enough snow in the Alps this year to make one forget about global warming, but the long-term threat of climate change to winter sports is here to stay. More pressing, though, is that baby boomers – the most enthusiastic skiers – are ageing and are not being replaced as ...
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A new life for 1,000 illegal immigrants in Geneva

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 12:00
Some 76,000 illegal and undocumented immigrants are believed to be living in Switzerland. The canton of Geneva – home to 13,000 of them – launched a pilot project in 2015 to go about regularising them. What progress has been made? “I heard that things were better in Switzerland,” says Purevmaa from Mongolia, recalling how she began her “underground” life here 13 years ago. Today, she is one of the 1,093 beneficiaries of the Papyrus project, a unique pilot scheme aiming to regularise long-term undocumented workers in Geneva. Since 2005, the year she arrived in Switzerland, Purevmaa has taken on domestic work as a means of earning a living. “A lot of other women from my country had found good jobs in Geneva,” she says. “I decided to come. I arrived when I was 24, with another girl from Mongolia, whose brother was already here. We stayed with him and found work.” She says that as a woman, finding work in Swiss households is “easy” and that she is well-treated by her bosses. She ...
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How climate change affects migration

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 12:00
Will climate change, as often claimed, indeed result in large-scale human migration, notably from poor to rich countries? Vally Koubi and Thomas Bernauer answer. Global warming is bound to have increasingly adverse consequences for humanity and ecosystems. While there is strong agreement in the scientific community about most of these consequences, there is significant controversy about how climatic changes could affect human migration.  Some political leaders, international organizations, and scientists claim that climate change will lead to massive population shifts in the international system, notably mass migration from poor to rich countries Mass migration to Europe? A recent publication in the journal Science, for instance – which we strongly disagree with predicts that climate change could drive up the number of people seeking asylum in the European Union by nearly 200 percent by the end of this century. Similarly, other studies claim that climate change will force ...
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More and more Swiss renounce their inheritance

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 18:00
An increasing number of Swiss people are renouncing their inheritance, due to their parents leaving their estates in debt upon their deaths. If they disclaim the inheritance, they refuse to accept what has been left to them. In the past five years, the number of inheritance renunciations has shot up by 30%, with more than 5,800 cases in 2015. (RTS/swissinfo.ch)  An inheritance can be disclaimed within the first three months after the death of the testator, if it’s feared that the estate’s debts are likely to exceed the assets. It costs CHF100 ($106) to file the paperwork for this. A disclaimed inheritance is equivalent to bankruptcy, so it is the bankruptcy authority that handles the dossiers. Information about a deceased person's financial circumstances can be obtained from their last tax return, from bank statements or by getting a certificate from the debt enforcement register. If someone’s financial position is unclear, people inheriting an estate can request that a public ...
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Freeze frames: when Siberia comes to Switzerland

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 16:10
A Siberian freeze has descended over Switzerland since Monday and is forecast to stay until Wednesday, with temperatures in the lowlands reaching -16 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit). A powerful wind means the “real feel” temperature is even lower. The mercury will barely rise above -5 degrees over the next few days. At 2,000 metres above sea level the temperatures are expected to be around -17 degrees. The cold spell is unusual but not extraordinary. It’s caused by a cold front coming from Siberia, which this year has reached Switzerland. A similar situation occurred in 2005. On the Corvatsch mountain near St Moritz in eastern Switzerland, the thermometer fell to -30.9 degrees, according to Meteonews. The chilliest place on Monday night was on the Glattalp in canton Schwyz, which recorded -38 degrees. Given the exposed location, such low temperatures are seen – and felt – every three to five years. And nature has left behind some spectacular ice sculptures in the ...
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Think tank: Swiss higher ed needs reform

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 12:00
Swiss universities need to be more efficient if they are to compete internationally, says think tank Avenir Suisse. Regional aspirations have taken priority over excellence, threatening standards, it warns. The independent free-market group of experts is quick to point out that Switzerland is not doing too badly higher-education-wise. “If you take the Times Higher Education university rankings, there are six Swiss universities among the top 150 ranked universities and if you take into account how many students in Switzerland actually study at one of these six universities, then its almost 40%, which is very high compared with the United States, for example,” Matthias Ammann, a fellow at Avenir Suisse, told swissinfo.ch. For example, the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) was ranked No. 1 in continental Europe in this survey and 10th overall. But this excellence has come at a price, argues the think tank in its recently published study “Academic Excellence, ...
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Zurich launches Muslim pastoral care project

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 18:00
When a Christian needs emergency spiritual support in a hospital, in a care-home or after an accident, there is an existing network in place to make sure pastoral carers can attend quickly. For the 100,000 Muslims living in canton Zurich however, only one man has been on call 24 hours a day until now: imam, Muris Begovic. (SRF/SDA/swissinfo.ch). Together with the Association of Islamic Organisations in Zurich (VIOZ) and two Christian churches, the canton of Zurich is supporting the expansion of Muslim emergency- and hospital-care by providing start-up funding.  For the approximately 100,000 Muslims in canton Zurich, there is currently no regulated pastoral care on offer during emergencies or in hospitals. The canton is now working with the VIOZ in the training and supervision of the specialised pastoral carers. From 2019, around ten Muslim emergency counsellors are to be trained and will start their work. Sites can be hospitals, but also care centres or homes for disabled people.
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Swiss abroad angered by proposed social benefits cuts

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 17:20
Those emigrating from a non-EU country to Switzerland will not be eligible to receive supplementary benefits for a period of 10 years, according to a proposal by the Social Security Committee in the Swiss House of Representatives. The Swiss abroad have reacted with concern. The decision to toughen the rules of entry into the Swiss social security system was taken last week by the committee, which said that only those resident in the country for a period of at least 10 years – and who have their permanent residence here – should be eligible to receive supplementary social benefits in case of need. Supplementary benefits are a legal entitlement (not a form of social welfare) linked to one’s existing social security insurance. They are provided in cases where retired or incapacitated people are unable to cover their needs through pension or income. However, the change will primarily affect Swiss citizens who wish to return to their country of origin after a period spent in a ...
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The phantom at the edge of our solar system

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 12:00
Stargazers worldwide are feverishly searching for a previously unknown giant planet. Among them is Swiss astrophysicist Christoph Mordasini of the University of Bern, who believes we will soon know for sure whether there are eight planets in our solar system…or nine. Why does our sun rotate at an oblique angle? Why do some celestial bodies at the edge of our solar system move in peculiar orbits? Something is causing imbalances in our solar system. But what is it? Some astronomers believe a large, as-yet undiscovered planet could be causing these disruptions. Two researchers in particular are convinced by this theory: the astrophysicists Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown at the California Institute of Technology. In 2016, they wrote in a scholarly article that they had found evidence suggesting the existence of a ninth planet. They had analysed irregular orbits of small celestial bodies on the far side of Neptune, and concluded that these could have been caused by a large planet.
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Swiss Olympians exceed medal target

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 11:56
Switzerland's Olympic team has ended up with 15 medals – four more than what they were aiming for at the Winter Games in PyeongChang. Here's a look, in photos, of how they got there. The largest-ever Swiss Olympic team aimed for at least 11 first-, second- or third-place finishes at this year's Games, a target met when Michelle Gisin and Wendy Holdener crossed the finish line as gold and bronze medallists in the Alpine combined event on Wednesday. "I really hoped today would be the day when I could put a race like this together," an overjoyed Gisin told Swiss public television, SRF, after her victory. She and Holdener – who had already won a silver medal in the women's slalom – joined their teammates who had previously medalled in men's Alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, curling and cross-country skiing.  One of the medallists was cross-country skier Dario Cologna, who led the Swiss team into the stadium at the opening of the PyeongChang Games. The 15 medals comprise five ...
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Younger children are also skipping school

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 16:00
Most people think school truants are older children, but experts say that cutting school is a growing problem in Switzerland among younger pupils too. “It’s already starting in Kindergarten, there are many absences,” Freddy Noser, president of the School Principals Association in canton St Gallen, told Swiss public television SRF in a recent report. This rise among Kindergarten (which runs from age 4-6 in Switzerland) and primary pupils concerns him. “We can no longer ignore it. We must take it seriously. If we don’t, we’re going to have an even bigger problem in ten years’ time, with absences of 20-30%,” he said. This is why the canton founded a working group on the issue in 2014, which was expanded in 2017. It is made up of representatives working in the school, health or social work field. Elsbeth Freitag, deputy director of the canton St Gallen school counselling service, is a member. “We know from research that for truancy, fear is probably a factor in 80% of cases,” ...
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New planets, legalised immigrants, and boiled lobsters

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 13:00
These are the stories out of Switzerland we’ll be following the week of February 26, 2018. Monday Are there really only eight planets in our solar system? Swiss researchers are looking into a theory that there’s a ninth, previously unknown giant planet out there. We’ll delve into their work and what they’ve discovered so far. Tuesday A leading Swiss think tank says Swiss universities need to be more efficient if they are to compete internationally. Regional aspirations have taken priority over excellence, it warns, threatening standards. The researchers have – controversially – mooted increasing tuition fees, traditionally very low in Switzerland. We bring you the background and reactions to the story. Wednesday Since last year all eyes have been on a pilot programme in Geneva that set out to regularise the legal status of thousands of previously illegal immigrants in the canton. Has it worked, and is it a legitimate model for the rest of Switzerland? ...
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Swiss medical students follow their dream in Romania

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 12:00
It's notoriously difficult to gain university places in medicine and veterinary science in Switzerland, so a growing number of Swiss are going to Romania to study instead. (RTS/swissinfo.ch)  In Cluj, Romania's fourth most populous city in the northwestern part of the country, teaching is in French and English and qualifications are recognised in Switzerland and European Union (EU) countries. And since Romania became an EU member in 2007, the medical faculty in Cluj has seen an explosion in the number of students attending; it currently has 50 from western Switzerland alone. Students claim the studies themselves are not easier, but entrance requirements are more relaxed. In Switzerland, a so-called numerus clausus ("closed number" in Latin) limits the number of students who may study medicine at university. Applicants with the relevant academic qualifications must score well in a test that assesses logical and spatial reasoning and textual comprehension skills. This is carried ...
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Uphill, but no struggle for these skiers

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 10:00
When a window of good weather appears, Swiss photographer Dan Patitucci, heads for the snowy hills. With two days of sun bookended by grey and wet conditions, we decided to take advantage of the great weather and fresh snow by ski touring both days in the Bernese Oberland.  Together with friends, we headed up to the Lobhorn Hut, then further towards the Schwalmerer, a 2777-metre-high peak we look up at from our home in Interlaken.  Conditions were perfect; shin-deep powder, and no tracks. Now, conditions are perfect to be working inside again. At work and play We are fortunate to call the mountains our workplace and still marvel at what we get to do on any given work day, be it in the Alps or Himalaya.  After all these years, the passion we have for life as mountain sport athletes and photographers hasn't faded. Experiencing the Alps on so many levels keeps us motivated for what comes next. Grandiose landscapes Since December, swissinfo.ch has been publishing a series ...
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By the numbers: A Swiss national language marks a milestone

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 18:00
Almost every article published by swissinfo.ch contains a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a round-up of the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. Sunday 20,400,000 The amount of Swiss funding, in francs, received by British aid organisation Oxfam since 2013. The British government recently withdrew its support of the charity following allegations of sexual misconduct by aid workers during the humanitarian crisis in Haiti in 2011. Monday 36 The age at which Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer officially became the oldest man to achieve an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) No. 1 ranking. It’s the fourth time in his career that Federer has snagged the top spot.  Monday 80 The number of years ago that Romansh became the fourth Swiss national language, after 92% of Swiss voters approved the designation. On the anniversary of that vote, Switzerland’s Romansh lobby called to broaden the official territory of ...
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