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Illegal immigrants demand regularisation

"No person is illegal" read one banner at the Bern forum


Delegates attending a European forum in Bern of illegal immigrants have called for a collective regularisation of undocumented foreign workers.

All European organisations believe that legal recognition of undocumented foreigners is the solution to improving their situation, said Hannes Reiser of the Swiss Movement for Illegal Immigrants (SMII).

Representatives from 11 European nations are meeting in the Swiss capital this weekend to discuss how to improve the lot of foreigners in legal limbo.

"This meeting will help us get an idea how the issue of illegal workers is being dealt with in neighbouring countries," said Sandra Modica, of SMII.

The organisers of the meeting, the European Civic Forum, are hoping it will also remind the Swiss government that a number of European states have regularised undocumented foreigners without having major effects on migratory policy.

Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Britain or France are just some of the countries that have allowed illegal immigrants to stay under certain conditions. "It's a solution to this problem," said Claude Braun of the European Civic Forum.

Braun does not believe in a proposal, championed by some in the past, to deal with each case on an individual basis.

"You obviously have to set some criteria for a blanket amnesty, because treating each case on an individual basis is ridiculous," he told swissinfo.

Vital to the economy

The Swiss authorities have so far turned a deaf ear towards requests for collective regularizations of illegal workers, despite groups of them occupying churches and other public buildings over the last year.

Parliament has also refused to debate the issue, saying that is a regional matter. The cantons have also tried to send the problem back to Bern, not wishing to deal with it locally, stating that the laws defining who can enter and work in Switzerland are federal.

These illegal immigrants are considered vital to certain sections of the economy. "There are 100,000 to 300,000 people living in this situation," said Braun.

"The majority of them are here because they have a job, even if they are very badly paid," he added. "They have no rights and no social security, but the economy is dependent on them."

Reiser says the business community seems content to live with the status quo.

"There is a tacit agreement between the economic world and the populist right," he said. "These politicians make sure the borders are kept shut, and business people get a cheap labour force that cannot make any demands."

European perspectives

The Swiss movement for a collective regularisation of illegal immigrants has lost some of its early strength, although its members say they will continue to fight to make their voice heard.

"It is only because the repression against the workers became stronger that we gave up occupying public buildings," says Sandra Modica.

"Our main concern was to protect those still living in a precarious situation."

Reiser says the weekend meeting in Bern will be an opportunity to exchange information about pan-European strategies.

"Our long-term aim is to create a federation of European movements."


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