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Asylum seekers provide pedal power

Asylum seeking couriers bring the goods home swissinfo.ch

The Migros supermarket chain has started an environmentally friendly grocery delivery service, powered by a workforce of asylum seekers.

This content was published on February 27, 2005 - 17:19

Come rain or shine, Kingsley Subala from Cameroon and Elvir Isakovic from Bosnia deliver the goods by electric bike in the hilly Zürich district of Höngg.

The idea was the brainchild of the EWZ, the city of Zurich’s electricity supplier, which wanted to promote e-bikes at the same time as providing work for asylum applicants.

Migros, Switzerland’s largest food retailer, agreed to help sponsor the six-month project.

The company’s hold on the food retail market has been increasingly challenged in recent years, and the chain was looking for new ways of satisfying its customers.

Employment blues

The couriers were found by the employment agency Züri rollt, which was set up to provide useful work for people given refuge in Switzerland during the Bosnian war.

Edo Trikvesa, the agency representative in charge of the Migros team, is himself a fugitive from the Balkans conflict.

He says asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their case are restricted in the type of jobs they are allowed to pursue.

They can seek employment in domestic services, bar work or catering, or as builders but most professions are out of bounds.

The restrictions are there to stop foreign workers flooding the labour market, to the detriment of the Swiss.

Elvir Isakovic, who is 25, is a trained mechanic but he cannot pursue his trade unless his asylum application is accepted.

In the meantime he works one day a week for Züri rollt, topping up his social benefits with a motivational payment of SFr400 ($337) per month.

Trikvesa told swissinfo, "Working for our organisation gives asylum seekers meaningful work and provides a structure to the day."

So far, so good

Züri rollt is better known for its free bike hire office at Zurich’s main railway station.

It also runs an emergency bicycle repair service: so-called bike doctors make house visits to clients with urgent mobility problems.

The e-bike delivery service costs customers just SFr2 ($1.72), and Migros spokesman Alex Rüegg says it’s a hit with the punters.

The store has been inundated with bookings, and has had to restrict deliveries to 35 per day.

Despite freezing cold temperatures and thick snow, the two couriers say they are happy to negotiate the undulating terrain of upmarket Höngg.

"The customers are very friendly and glad to see us," Isakovic told swissinfo.

Customers are so trusting that they often leave their front door key in the outside letter box so that the couriers can let themselves in.

The two men carry loads of up to 20 kilos per delivery, so Isakovic has managed to lose some weight during his Thursday biking marathons.

He does not seem too bothered by sub-zero temperatures. "As long as we wrap up warm, we’re okay," Isakovic said.

The pilot project ends in April, when the partners will have to decide whether to extend it.

Züri rollt, for its part, says it would be happy to keep on rolling.

swissinfo, Julie Hunt in Höngg

Key facts

The electric bikes used are called Flyers.
They are made by Biketec in Kirchberg.
A rechargeable battery and solar panel power the bike’s motor.
They travel at speeds of up to 35km/h.

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In brief

Switzerland’s largest food retailer, Migros, has a new, car-free delivery service with a difference.

Its couriers are asylum seekers, and the grocery deliveries are made in the hilly Zurich suburb of Höngg by electric bike.

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