Switzerland Faces The Reality Of Integrating Immigrants

Integration is one of the key aspects that makes immigrants begin to feel at home, Switzerland is introducing a number of grass-root projects aimed at making newcomers integrate into Swiss society.

According to a survey in 2008 Switzerland had over 1.6 million foreign residents composing 21.4 % of the country’s total population. An average of more than 40,000 foreigners became Swiss citizens since 2002.

The question is how does Switzerland work on integrating all these newcomers. Granted, it is not easy to do so. There are many hurdles along the way for newcomers, these include learning a new language, receiving job training, and following professional development programmes to integrate at the federal, cantonal and municipal levels.

A study conducted by the Migration Policy Index (Mipex) found that Switzerland is lagging behind other nations when it comes to integrating newcomers. Countries like Sweden, Germany and Italy were performing much better when it comes to integration.

The report cited many restrictions for immigrants to integrate including complex and burdensome nationalization conditions, along with tough policies on accessing the labour market.

Nevertheless there seems to be hope as Switzerland begins to face the reality of living in a cosmopolitan Europe given the influx of immigrants arriving each year, projects are being introduced to help immigrants integrate.

One of these projects is known as ‘Active Asylum,’ organized by a group of Swiss citizens on Facebook. The group openly invite anyone who wishes to integrate in Switzerland not only immigrants.

Instead of following a strict code of teaching, the group aims to integrate locals and immigrants by teaching them computer skills. A more relaxed setting that fosters an atmosphere of coherence such as playing a game of cards occurs regularly.

The group ‘Active Asylum,’ was organized by Simon Marti and Ruth Thommen who originally thought of the idea and introduced it on Facebook.

“The project was originally launched by Swiss people, we thought that it was a great idea to recycle laptops and offer computer classes to refugees,” says Simon Marti.

Marti explains that playing a game of cards-and a very Swiss one is a good way of bringing people together. He reiterated the fact that bringing people together from all walks of life face-to-face is important.

“We have some Germans here, some British people who also wanted to take part, expats who have a hard time integrating into Swiss society or Swiss people who might feel isolated,” he added.

Gianni D’ Amato the director of Swiss Forum for Migration and Population studies said that Switzerland had no integration policies at all in the past.

“Forty years ago there was no integration policy, people were not expected to stay. In the last 20 years there has been a major change with policymakers accepting this as a reality,” he stated.

The Government’s Role

The Swiss Government is beginning to play a major role in helping newcomers integrate. The federal government for example allocated 14 CHF million for its integration promotion program.

The federal government spends 30 to 40 CHF million per year in lump-sum payments to various cantons for the integration of refugees and individuals with temporary residency permits.

Nevertheless achieving and defining successful integration still remains a challenge for many countries in Europe, as in any other country successful integration depends on living together peacefully and offering equal opportunities for all, how successfully Switzerland will tackle this remains in question.