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Info bus for elderly immigrants hits the road

Not all pensioners are properly informed about their entitlements

(Keystone)

Elderly immigrants are the target audience of an information minibus, which started a 15-month tour of Switzerland on Tuesday.

The roadshow aims to explain to these pensioners their entitlements and how the social and health systems function.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey launched the "migration bus" from Parliament Square in Bern at a ceremony on Tuesday.

The theme of the 40-leg tour is migration and age, according to Christina Schneider of the Swiss association of retirement homes and social institutions.

"Many first-generation immigrants came here with the intention of returning home one day but this does not always happen in reality," she said.

Schneider estimates that one-third of first-generation immigrants return to their country of origin when they retire.

"Another third remain here and the rest divide their time between the two countries, often returning to Switzerland when they become ill," she added.

Spreading awareness

According to the Federal Statistics Office, the number of foreign pensioners in Switzerland is expected to reach 123,000 by 2010. Foreigners account for more than one in four workers in Switzerland.

But many first-generation immigrants remain in a low-wage bracket and suffer poorer health than their Swiss contemporaries. The largest groups of foreign residents in Switzerland are Italians and people from the former Yugoslavia.

Elderly immigrants have the same entitlements as Swiss citizens although they may not be aware of them, a shortcoming promoters of the migration bus hope to overcome.

A recent report by the Institute of Social Studies in Geneva showed that health, social and geriatric providers usually met the needs of elderly immigrants.

But it highlighted problems such as the underuse of services by elderly immigrants, a lack of appropriate information about these services, and a lack of intercultural sensitivity.

The study also pointed out that more than a quarter of elderly immigrants in Switzerland assessed themselves as having poor or very poor health. In comparison, just seven to 11 per cent of Swiss people over 65 consider their health to be poor.

The Geneva report found that older immigrants used social-care services less often than health services. Only a quarter of the interviewees made some demands on social services, with about ten per cent receiving help or nursing at home.

Improvements

The authors of the study concluded that some improvements could be made in relation to access to social services for foreigners.

Their recommendations included more active promotion of services. They also stressed the importance of developing "culturally sensitive care, including the regular use of interpreters when needed".

At each stop, the bus project will collaborate with local organisations and institutions involved in care for the elderly. The organisers have chosen locations where immigration plays or has played an important role.

"We hope we can reach elderly people who may eventually need care and inform them about their options and entitlements," said Schneider.

But the promoters of the bus project are hoping to reach beyond the foreign-pensioner community.

"We want to raise awareness of the current needs and past contributions of older immigrants among the general public," added Schneider.

swissinfo, Clare O'Dea

In brief

A minibus stocked with information for elderly immigrants is starting a nationwide tour.

Long-term immigrants have the same entitlements as Swiss citizens, although they may not be aware of them due to lack of integration and language problems.

The number of foreign pensioners in Switzerland is expected to reach 123,000 by 2010.

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