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Basel police first to recruit foreigners

With a lack of Swiss recruits, Basel police are welcoming foreigners into their ranks (picture: www.polizei-bs.ch)

Basel has become the first Swiss canton to recruit foreigners into its police force. The move follows a change in the recruitment rules in 1996 to address an ongoing shortage of police officers across Switzerland.

Of canton Basel's 44 students at the police academy this year, two do not have Swiss nationality. Leonardo d'Innocente and Bruno Moresi were born in Switzerland, but they are both Italian. They are the first two foreigners in Switzerland to join a Swiss police force.

"Becoming a policeman was a childhood dream for me," said d'Innocente. "I always knew I wanted to join the police, but because I wasn't Swiss I thought my dream would stay just that - a dream."

Bruno Moresi believes his mixed background will help him in his future work. "My mother is Portuguese and my father is originally from Greece, although he grew up in Italy. I can imagine that when I become a policeman, and someone needs to talk to me, on the street say, I will be able to communicate better than someone who knows only one ethnic background."

Markus Karli, co-director of canton Basel's police academy, believes the decision to allow foreigners into the force is a reflection of Basel's traditionally progressive policies on integration.

"We've always been open to new ideas and new cultures here in Basel. Don't forget we have close contact with other countries because of our borders with France and Germany."

Karli also believes having foreign policeman will be good for the force. "If you look at Switzerland now and see all the different ethnic groups we have living here, it's got to be an advantage if we have police officers as well from these ethnic groups."

Nevertheless, there is opposition to the decision to permit foreigners into the police force. Some Swiss believe a job as important as maintaining law and order should only be done by citizens. And other big cities like Bern and Zurich, who are also finding it difficult to recruit police officers, have not followed Basel's example.

But Rosemarie Simmen, head of Switzerland's Commission for Foreigners, welcomes Basel's as a positive step towards better integration.

"I can't understand the opposition," she says. "Establishing better channels of communication with ethnic minorities is one of the primary aims of our commission. And when you think of the key role the police play in our society, you can see how having members of ethnic minorities in the police force will be an advantage. It's really a win win situation."

Foreigners who want to join the Basel police force must have permanent residency rights in Switzerland, and must satisfy the same educational requirements as Swiss candidates. These include demonstrating an understanding of Swiss laws, traditions, and culture.

For d'Innocente and Moresi, this was no problem at all. They have in fact spent all their lives in Switzerland, and regard the country as their home.

"I'm Swiss already really," said Moresi, "I just don't have a Swiss passport. I've never really thought too much about getting Swiss nationality because I've always lived in Switzerland and my roots are here. But then of course it's also true that it's not so easy for foreigners to get Swiss nationality."

Rosemarie Simmen sees an anomaly in a situation where people like d'Innocente and Moresi will be expected to uphold Swiss laws as part of their job, but yet have no right to vote in Switzerland. She believes the rules on nationality should be relaxed in order to reflect modern Switzerland.

"It's not good when existing laws and the real situation get too far apart," she says. "We need to change the laws on nationality so that people who were born here, and who have lived here for years, can easily get the nationality that they already really feel they are."

Both d'Innocente and Moresi agree that Swiss nationality is a long term goal for them. But for now, they just want to concentrate on their studies.

Still, despite the fact that they both feel Swiss, and have lived in Switzerland all their lives, there are some compromises that even the most ardent fans of integration can't expect. Asked which nation's football team they support in the World Cup, neither of them hesitated for a moment - "Italy of course".

by Imogen Foulkes


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