Swiss won't accept big groups coming directly from Afghanistan

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ZURICH, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Switzerland will not accept large groups of refugees arriving directly from Afghanistan, the government said on Wednesday, as a Swiss army unit arrived in Kabul to assess the situation.

The neutral Alpine country has promised to evacuate local workers for a Swiss development office and their families, 230 people whom the Taliban insurgents could see as "western collaborators", it said.

But other applications for asylum will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, with humanitarian visas considered only for people facing an "immediate, concrete, serious and directly life-threatening threat", the government said.

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Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said she understood calls to take in more Afghans, but this was not possible now.

"There are different U.N. organisations trying to work out in an unclear situation if and how many people need long-term protection and if these people need to be resettled," she told a news conference in Bern.

"Also, such an operation is currently not at all possible because the situation in Afghanistan is so unstable."

A detachment from the Swiss army had reached Kabul, where it will work closely with U.S. forces to assess the situation.

The government was also in contact with 30 Swiss citizens still in Afghanistan who want to leave.

Keller-Sutter said the government was prepared to review any request from the UN refugee agency for countries to take in contingents of people leaving Afghanistan.

Switzerland would also look to help with the flood of Afghans heading for Afghanistan's neighbours.

Switzerland is home to 20,000 Afghans, 15,000 of whom are going through the asylum process, she said.

"Switzerland is not going to sit back and do nothing," Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told the news conference. "We must first look at what the needs are."

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Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Michael Shields

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