Geneva’s residents say the city benefits from being home to leading international organisations, even though the foreigners who live there are not welcomed with open arms.This content was published on November 3, 2003 - 20:59
A survey of both Swiss and foreign residents showed that most had a positive view of the city, which is home to the United Nations.
The study, by the European Institute at Geneva University and the MIS Trend research institute in Lausanne, asked 600 Geneva citizens and 600 foreign workers how they viewed the city’s international status.
Fifty-one per cent said international organisations gave the city a positive image abroad.
“What was most interesting was the very strong support for the presence of international organisations in Geneva,” said Philippe Braillard, director of the institute.“Those questioned are aware of the positive contributions these organisations have to the city and its economy.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was seen as giving the city the most kudos on the international stage, followed by the United Nations, which has its European headquarters in Geneva.
Most people questioned did not believe any of the international organisations gave Geneva a negative image, although a fifth of foreigners and about a sixth of locals singled out the World Trade Organization most likely to portray the city in a bad light.
Swiss neutrality and the quality of the city’s infrastructure were seen as key reasons for international organisations deciding to locate there.
However, both foreigners and local Swiss were uncertain that the city would continue to attract organisations and many feared it might even lose some in the future.
On matters closer to home, Geneva’s residents generally had a good opinion about the quality of life in their city.
Sixty-six per cent of foreign residents said they felt “safe” in the city, with 56 per cent of the more safety-conscious Swiss agreeing.
Nearly 80 per cent of the respondents said Geneva had an excellent location, providing easy access to the rest of Europe.
In terms of how local Swiss and foreigners get on together, even the native Swiss agreed that Geneva was not the most friendly place towards outsiders. They attributed this to the reserved nature of the locals.
Almost half of local residents said they had no contact with international workers. However, more than 80 per cent of foreigners in Geneva said they had either occasional or regular contact with locals.
“It’s surprising that they don’t have much contact with each other, especially as both sides say they feel at home in Geneva,” said Braillard.
Despite the lack of contact between the two communities, most locals see the presence of international workers as more of an advantage than a disadvantage.
Perhaps surprisingly, more foreigners than locals believed their presence added to the shortage of accommodation in the city and threatened to diminish Geneva’s Swiss identity.
Around a fifth of Swiss residents and over a third of foreigners, for example, believed English would replace French as the city's main language in the future.
Half of those questioned believed the presence of international organisations had a positive impact on the city’s economy.
But the Swiss were far less sanguine about the prospects for Geneva’s economy. Only 39 per cent thought the city was in the midst of an economic upturn, with 49 saying the economy was going downhill.
The foreigners were more upbeat: 46 per cent expected a recovery, with just 30 saying that things were going from bad to worse.
swissinfo, Joanne Shields
Geneva has the largest concentration of foreigners in Switzerland, making up around 40 per cent of the population and representing some 180 nationalities.
There are 28 international organisations, around 170 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and 150 permanent missions to the United Nations in the city.
There are around 30,000 international workers in Geneva.
The ICRC is seen as the most positive symbol of the city’s international status.
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