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Path to integration needs political rights

Calmy-Rey (left) meets conference delegates Keystone

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said immigrants and Swiss people must build up more mutual trust during Switzerland’s first national migrant assembly.

Participants added that giving political rights to foreigners would go a long way to fostering integration, which forms part of a charter unveiled during the proceedings in Olten.

More than 300 people from 52 countries took part in the historic event in the north-eastern town located in canton Solothurn.

They listened to the Swiss foreign minister stress that integration meant working side by side to shape the future.

“Immigrants must take on responsibility within the state,” she said.

“We should pull together in the same direction,” she added, using a metaphor taken from the game tug-of-war.

Calmy-Rey said that migration had brought “incalculable advantages” to the country, adding that a quarter of Switzerland’s 1.5 million immigrants were in employment.

Unfair exposure

The foreign minister told the audience that she was sorry that problems with asylum-seekers were given so much exposure.

This had the effect of shunting success stories of immigrants integrating themselves in Swiss society out of the limelight, she said.

It was a shame that one heard more about the 51,000 asylum-seekers, who barely made up three per cent of the entire immigrant population, she added.

While she emphasised that one could not ignore the fears of the population at large, discussions on immigration issues needed to be more objective.

Mutual recognition

The Bern-based Forum for the Integration of Migrants (FIMM) was behind the historic conference, which it used to unveil its integration charter.

This calls for ties to be strengthened between migrant communities and the Swiss population in the political, cultural and social arenas.

During the assembly, FIMM’s president, Antonio Cunha, made an appeal for new nationality rules based on the country of birth, as well mutual recognition and political rights for immigrants.

He stressed that being able to vote in local and national elections had an important role to play in promoting integration.

“We want to work together to shape the future of Switzerland,” Cunha said.

swissinfo with agencies

Top 15 of foreigners in Switzerland in 2003:
312,000 Italians
214,000 Serbs and Montenegrins
165,000 Portuguese
151,000 Germans
120,000 other Europeans
109,000 Asians
82,000 Turks and Kurds
79,000 Spaniards
72,000 French
65,000 Africans
61,000 Macedonians
60,000 Americans
51,000 Bosnians
43,000 Croats
35,000 Austrians

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR