Asylum seekers to keep working in Zurich

Cleaning schools is one of the jobs on offer Keystone

Asylum seekers in Zurich city will be able to continue to earn their keep doing community work while their claims are being processed.

This content was published on January 30, 2005 - 17:07

This is due to the city council deciding to extend a revolutionary pilot project until the end of this year, which was the first of its kind in Switzerland when introduced in 2003.

The head of the city’s social affairs department, Monika Stocker, said the council had thrown its entire weight behind the scheme.

“We are carrying out pioneering work, which is contributing to improving the situation [of asylum seekers], which has deteriorated since Christoph Blocher took charge of the federal justice ministry,” said Stocker.

Asylum seekers are normally barred under Swiss law from working during his or her first three months in the country.

However, the scheme circumvents the law by allowing them to carry out community work for a small “motivational” payment of up to SFr400 ($337) per month.

Jobs include cleaning trams and schools, and working in hospitals and old people’s homes.

Currently 110 people are on the scheme, with another 30 on the waiting list.

A study last year showed that scheme was actually benefiting the city council: during its first year in business, the value of the work carried out was worth SFr1.5 million to the local authority.

Lack of interest

Unfortunately, the hope that the scheme might set the tone for other parts of the country has remained unrealised, according to Thomas Schutz of the Asylum Organisation Zurich.

Schutz said scattered communes across Switzerland had expressed interest in the scheme but only the cities of Bern, St Gallen and Basel had managed to either initiate similar pilot projects or were in the process of doing so.

Bern created 20 posts for asylum seekers in 2004 and is hoping to create ten more jobs. St Gallen plans to produce 20 positions this year, should its parliament approve the scheme. Basel has proposed generating 50 jobs.

Positive message?

About 17 per cent of all asylum seekers in Switzerland reside in canton Zurich, according to the Federal Migration Office.

Its spokesperson said that Zurich city’s initiative to keep these people occupied should send a positive message to other cantons.

However, critics in French-speaking Switzerland have said that the Zurich project is not suitable for the region.

“The Zurich model is not appropriate for French-speaking Switzerland where the debate centres on repatriation, the 'sans-papiers' and illegal immigrants,” said Silvia Zamora of Lausanne's social affairs department.

Zamora’s counterpart in Geneva, Manuel Tornare, added that finding work for asylum seekers was not a priority.

“The number one problem in French-speaking Switzerland is unemployment,” said Tornare.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

About 17 per cent of all asylum seekers in Switzerland reside in canton Zurich.

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In brief

A pilot project in Zurich city giving work to asylum seekers has been extended until the end of 2005.

110 asylum seekers are working, with 30 on the waiting list.

Participants receive a small “motivational” payment of up to SFr400 ($337) per month.

The project has failed to blaze a trail in other parts of Switzerland.

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