Humanitarian Tradition

Switzerland has a long humanitarian tradition and has for centuries acted as a safe haven for people persecuted for their religious or political beliefs. In 1863 the Red Cross, known today as the ICRC, was founded in Geneva on the initiative of a Swiss humanitarian. Switzerland is very active in the field of development cooperation and provides rapid assistance for humanitarian crises and conflicts. It is committed to alleviating poverty and hardship throughout the world, and to sustainable development.

Entrance to the Red Cross Museum in Geneva
Switzerland has a long humanitarian tradition as the birthplace of the Red Cross and home of the ICRC. Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, Geneva. © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

The roots of Switzerland's humanitarian tradition go back centuries. Its official development assistance (ODA) helps to alleviate poverty, reduce global risks, and strengthen peace and human rights. In 2020 Swiss ODA amounted to approximately CHF 3,300 million, just under 0.5% of the country's GDP.

Roots of Switzerland's humanitarian tradition

Many people persecuted for their religious or political beliefs have sought refuge in Switzerland over the centuries: the Huguenots during the 16th century Reformation and Counter-Reformation, politcal refugees following the French Revolution, the World Wars and the Cold War, and asylum seekers today.

Switzerland's humanitarian tradition also has its roots in the founding of the Red Cross, which was established by Geneva-born humanist Henry Dunant in 1863. Since then, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has gone on to become operational worldwide and one of Switzerland's most important partners in the humanitarian field – with Switzerland also acting as one of the organisation's largest donors. In addition, Switzerland is home to the headquarters of the ICRC and depository of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Swiss development cooperation

Swiss development cooperation focuses on alleviating poverty and hardship worldwide, increasing respect for human rights, promoting democracy, and protecting the environment. It is also concerned with fostering economic and state autonomy, helping to improve conditions of production, providing assistance in tackling environmental issues, and ensuring better access to education and basic healthcare.

The Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA), which comprises 700 specialists, can be deployed in response to conflicts or natural disasters. The most recent SHA missions include the Syrian crisis, the 2021 earthquake in Haiti, hurricane Iota and Eta in Central America, and the Beirut explosion in 2020.

How the SHA works:

Switzerland has a budget of CHF 11.25 billion to implement its International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24, which includes the following thematic priorities: creating decent local jobs, combating climate change, reducing the causes of displacement and irregular migration, and commitment to the rule of law. Switzerland's bilateral development cooperation focuses on four priority regions: North Africa and the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia (Central, South and Southeast Asia) and Eastern Europe.