Coronavirus: Swiss Federal Council Releases CHF 400 Million in Humanitarian Aid

Ignazio Cassis during the press conference in Bern, 30 Avril. | Keystone / Alessandro della Valle

Switzerland will contribute some CHF 400 million in emergency aid to international and humanitarian relief agencies supporting COVID-19 pandemic response among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.

"The virus knows no boundaries. The crisis affects all countries. The Federal Council must of course look after Swiss citizens, but it is equally necessary to look after poor citizens in other countries, especially the poorest ones. Solidarity means being able to give up something to help others,” said Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, in announcing the emergency aid today.

Cassis, who heads the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), said the funds will be channeled to the International Monetary Fund’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT), the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), as well as other NGOs working in humanitarian and emergency relief.

Why we’re talking about this. Following yesterdays critical announcements of domestic measures for relaxation of COVID-19 confinement, the Federal Council has been under presssure by leading Swiss-based international and non-profit organizations to etch an international aid strategy. The Foreign Policy Committee of the National Council (lower house of the Federal Assembly) had called an allocation of CHF 100 million more in international aid for 2020. The Federal Council’s plan cites a much larger sum, but much of it is in the form of long-term loans, while the amount to be given as outright grants remains unclear.

Why this assistance. This makes it possible, in part, to respond to appeals launched by different international organizations, including the IMF, ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as well as other NGOs requiring emergency financial support. Noted Cassis:

“We can express this solidarity by supporting international organisations that are fighting the pandemic and its effects on the global economy that are causing social instability. When the poorest can no longer work, they can no longer feed their families. This leads to migration. Switzerland is also affected and has a vested interest in helping on the ground.”

The terms. The funds are to be distributed as follows:

  • An interest-free, seven-year loan of CHF 200 million will go to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

  • A CHF 25 million loan is being granted to the IMF's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust.

  • Another CHF 175 million will be allocated to other non-governmental aid and humanitarian relief organisations, said Cassis:

"The Federal Council will decide next week which NGOs will benefit most from this amount."

What's next. The plan demonstrates that "the humanitarian tradition remains an important pillar of our foreign policy", Cassis said. But it remains to be seen whether emergency aid comprised largely of interest-free loans is the best way to contribute. The Federal Assembly, due to review the package in June, will make the final decision.