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Swiss Sanctuary for “International Organization Refugees”

Over the past year as the impending doom of a potential Trump installation in the U.S. WhiteHouse pervaded the international organization community, my former chief-of-staff at the ITU found consolation in Swiss history. Now retired with his wife formerly with the World Health Organization in the mountains near the tranquil Canton Vaud municipality of Château-d’Oex, he pointed his old friends to its heritage site.

A hundred years ago, what was a tiny village undertook a signature characteristic of Switzerland—offering its part in caring for the 68,000 wounded and sick soldiers from World War I. The exhibition was made living by an outreach effort to identify people’s lives that were subsequently affected by the refugees that had been taken in by the local Swiss. The author Ernest Hemmingway also captured those times in his book A Farewell to Arms.

Over the past week, as the effect of Trump’s egregious Muslim ban wreaked havoc worldwide, the same Swissinfo site has hosted information about a new Swiss generation providing refuge to the stranded people and families. Serving as a kind of global refuge is literally sewn into the fabric of the Swiss nation as the symbol of another international organization trampled by Trump—the International Committee of the Red Cross—by its founder Henry Dunant. It is an inversion of the Swiss flag. Even today, a Swiss boat crossing over to France on the waters of Lac Leman, celebrates the heritage of sanctuary with the symbols embedded in the parquet floors.

That national mindset is also reflected in Swiss Federal law that facilitates the creation and maintenance of international organizations of all kinds in the country. The Geneva phone book is filled with hundreds, and their names adorn the mailboxes of countless offices along the streets. Numerous international organizations today are effectively shut out convening in the United States by Trump’s actions for the indefinite future. They cannot meet there because their members resident or born in the Muslim nations can no longer enter the U.S. Many organizations also seek to honor the international conventions, including the Cybercrime Convention Additional Protocol that ban Trump’s xenophobic pronouncements and actions—much as South Africa was shunned during the Apartheid era.

It seems appropriate in these trying times for the international community including international organization officials and the many U.S. Foreign Service Officers who opposed Trump to call upon the Swiss Federal authorities and the officials at the Canton de Genève to provide sanctuary for the many international organizations that can no longer meet in the U.S. That sanctuary can take the form of providing meeting space and funding for the existing international organization secretariats in Switzerland providing “organization refugee” support services. Those organizations may even decide to settle there—which has made Switzerland stronger and more prosperous in the past.

In many cases, there is already an established affinity with existing organizations based in Geneva. For example, the International Telecommunication Union could offer its facilities and support services to numerous international technical ICT, Internet, and IoT organizations. There are countless UN and specialized agency penumbra clusters of industries and professionals in the medical, legal, metrological, and economic fields that could be hosted. It would be wonderful way for Switzerland to reinvent the role it played a hundred years ago in another foolish war instigated by uncaring, narcissistic leaders and for the international community to find common comfort paving the way for a better future together in a place that welcomes them.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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