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Swiss life enhanced by immigrants

Most immigrants come to Switzerland to join relatives already in the country

(RTS)

The Swiss government should take steps to make the families of immigrants feel more at home in Switzerland.

That's the conclusion drawn by the federal commission for family issues, which issued a new report on Tuesday on the situation of immigrants.

The government advisory commission says immigrant families support and enrich Swiss society, and it is calling for a new information campaign to drive that message home to the Swiss population, political leaders and researchers.

Among the recommendations it makes is that migrants be given legal protection and assistance tailored to their needs.

Immigrants an asset

"The discussion on migration is very focused on the problems which are caused by a small group of migrants," the commission president, Jürg Krummenacher, told swissinfo.

He said the debate failed to recognise that the majority of migrant families worked hard at integration and enriched society, rather than placing a burden on it.

"We think that a change of view is needed, that the discussion should much more focus on the resources and potential of migrant families," Krummenacher added.

Foreign workers accounted for 25 per cent of all social insurance contributions, he said, but only received half of that in benefit payments.

One of the report's co-authors, Philippe Wanner, stressed that the importance to Switzerland of its immigrant population could not be overlooked.

"Migration is a positive factor in demographic evolution in the context of an ageing population," Wanner told swissinfo. "Without migration the Swiss population would find itself in a very unhealthy demographic situation."

Part of Swiss life

The hotel sector and health care were two areas where the help of immigrants was indispensable, Krummenacher said. In many cases migrants ran businesses, which had been wholly adopted by the Swiss.

For these reasons it was high time that the image the Swiss had of migrant workers was brought into line with the reality. This was largely the responsibility of politicans, the commission president said.

"One of the first recommendations is that they should start with a real information campaign," Krummenacher said. "We have noticed, for instance, that public services are not as much used by migrant families as by Swiss families, and we think... the transcultural competence of the experts working in these services should be improved."

The commission also called for greater legal protection for migrants and greater harmonisation of the legal right to bring family members into Switzerland.

Another priority was to ensure equal opportunities in education, the report said.

Better integration

For the report's co-author Ruth Calderon-Grossenbacher, language- and other barriers make it hard for migrants to integrate in Swiss society.

She said foreign families needed to establish "a network of contacts" and find out about the various public services.

Contact with Swiss people would improve relations and help migrants fit in, Calderon told swissinfo.

Another means of helping foreigners integrate would be to recognise their contribution and allow them greater political rights, she contended.

"I think really it should be easier to get citizenship here in Switzerland," Calderon said. "Or we could think of other ways of political participation, which could be a big motivation for the migrant families to integrate."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Foreigners make up 21.2% of Switzerland's population.
In western Europe, only Luxembourg und Liechtenstein have a higher proportion of foreigners.
Some 30% of immigrants come to Switzerland to rejoin family members.

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Migrants brief

The federal commission for family affairs is urging the authorities to improve understanding of the situation of immigrants in Switzerland.

It says the population should be made aware of the huge contribution made by foreigners.

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