Swiss town's U-turn on accepting refugees 

A woman sits with a child on her lap at a makeshift refugee camp near the Greek-Macedonian border.

Story highlights

  • Oberwil-Lieli announce it will accept Syrian family in January after previously voting to refuse migrants in May
  • Community rejected Swiss government quotas calling for village to accept 10 refugees

(CNN)A Swiss village is rethinking its decision to reject 10 refugees under the country's government quota.

Oberwil-Lieli -- one of Europe's wealthiest villages -- is home to 2,200 residents, 300 of whom are reported to be millionaires.
    But citizens of the quaint picturesque commune voted to refuse resettlement of asylum seekers in a contentious referendum earlier this year, opting to fork out the fine of 290,000 Swiss francs ($285,643) instead.
    The village faced fierce criticism -- at home and abroad -- after the "no" vote won by 52% to 48% back in May.
    Earlier that month, the government had proposed a new quota system to be rolled out across its 26 regions, in order to rehome the 50,000 refugees Switzerland has pledged to take in.
    Oberwil-Lieli's refusal to accept its quota of just 10 refugees was perceived to be at odds with Switzerland's longstanding humanitarian efforts. The country accepts more refugees per capita than most European countries -- only Sweden, Malta and Luxembourg take in more, according to data from the UNHCR.
    Now it appears the community has had change of heart: The village council announced Friday that it will welcome a family of five refugees from Syria in January.

    Hard line response

    The majority of refugees seeking asylum in Switzerland have traditionally hailed from Eritrea, citing economic hardship, according to the Swiss Department of Migration.
    And it was these migrants who Andreas Glarner, a Swiss People's Party member and mayor of Oberwil-Lieli, says he was taking a hard line against in the May referendum.
     "We still don't want to accept any refugees in our village but we thought it would be good to accommodate the 48% of our residents who voted to accept refugees -- that's why we changed our mind on this," he told CNN.
    Council representatives have appealed to the community to find an apartment to host the family -- but no accommodation has so far been located. The remaining five refugees that the village was allocated according to the government quota will reside in a neighboring town, Glarner said.

    Offering an alternative

    Oberwil-Lieli's mayor insists the referendum decision was never fueled by any kind of xenophobic sentiment, but because residents believe there are better ways to offer assistance.
    "I went to visit refugee camps in Greece and Turkey this summer and realized that it makes much more sense to help people there instead of supporting our nonsense refugee policy here in Switzerland," he said.
    "We thought it is smarter to help people on the ground. The Swiss franc is worth much more in those countries ... We don't want people to get into a boat and pay migrant smugglers. We should stop this business."
      Upon his return, Glarner appealed to his constituents for further donations to help the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. He says residents have so far raised 370,000 Swiss francs ($365,233), thanks in part to a private donor who pledged 250,000 francs ($246,779).
      "The money is going to Schwizerchruez," he said. "The charity supports refugees stranded in Greece. They make sure [refugees] can live in humane conditions."