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New study reveals problems facing refugees

The Swiss Refugee Council co-authored the new report swissinfo.ch

A new study focusing on the problems facing refugees and asylum seekers in Switzerland has made a series of proposals to help them integrate better into society.

This content was published on November 15, 2001 - 19:54

The report by the Federal Office for Refugees and the Swiss Refugee Council is to form the basis of recommendations and measures to be put forward nationally to help refugees become part of the mainstream Swiss society.

There are at least 26,000 refugees in Switzerland with around 80 per cent of them between 25 and 39 years old. Although many are capable of working and contributing to Switzerland both economically and socially, their assimilation is often impeded by problems of differences in language and culture.

These problems are often compounded by persecution or turmoil which refugees may have suffered in their countries of origin.

The report, called "The integration of legal refugees", focuses on measures to help refugees adapt to Swiss society, to find work and integrate into the workplace, to address common prejudices and to help them master at least one of the national languages.

Asylum seekers

The deputy director of the Federal Office for Refugees, Jörg Frieden, says the findings of the report will be disseminated among national and non-governmental organisations, which are concerned with the needs of asylum seekers.

"We will disseminate the report as far as possible so that all authorities and non-governmental organisations dealing with refugees will be aware of the conclusions. We expect that at each level of responsibility, there are specific questions to be addressed, coming out of the report and we will try to further this process of discussion and solution-finding," says Frieden.

One of the co-authors of the report, Sabine Schoch from the Swiss Refugee Council, says the findings of the project, conducted with the help of a working group of refugees, seeks to address weaknesses at an institutional level.

"There are different departments concerned with integration, and the measures are not always coordinated. Also, little is known about the actual needs of refugees," says Schoch.

Schoch added that although there is goodwill in terms of the recommendations of the new report among organisations dealing with the integration of refugees, only time will tell if they constitute the right course of action.

Isolation

Many refugees in Switzerland face a variety of problems stemming primarily from a lack of fluency in the languages of the cantons in which they have settled. The knock-on effect of isolation on a social or cultural level can be exacerbated by the tendency to stereotype refugees as burdens on the social welfare system with few skills to make them useful human resources.

A representative of the working group of refugees involved in the compilation of the new report, Tunisian-born Kais Fguiri who settled in Canton Valais, says this view of asylum seekers often hurts their self-esteem and makes them vulnerable to "being dictated to".

He adds that the loss of confidence can make them more reluctant to participate in Swiss society and that the worst affected people are women from developing nations.

"Refugees are not just social welfare cases in their countries. They are on the contrary very productive people. But here we are faced with a categorisation of refugees as living on handouts from the governments or as drug addicts and alcoholics.

"The main problem for refugees is adaptation. They need help to get back on the road to integration," says Fguiri who sought asylum in Switzerland in 1992.

by MaryAnn Mathew

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