8 June 2021

First Swiss Refugee Parliament

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On Sunday 6 June, the first Swiss Refugee Parliament met in the Trinity Church in Berne. A historic milestone for Switzerland. At the end of the session, the participants presented ten selected demands to politicians present and connected.

Family visits in the Schengen area for provisionally admitted persons: this is what refugees in Switzerland want. On Sunday, the Refugee Parliament adopted a proposal on this and other points. The participants want access to education for refugees to be improved and for those who receive a negative asylum decision during their apprenticeship to still be allowed to complete an apprenticeship they have started. Furthermore, the refugee parliament has spoken out in favour of extended family reunification: Children should be allowed to bring their parents to Switzerland. In addition, children in Switzerland should be treated first and foremost as children and in accordance with their age, irrespective of their residence status.

Like a ship without a port

Participants, guests and supporting organisations emphasised again and again during the day: there is a lot of talk about refugees, but they are rarely asked. Young Sayed N., who fled Afghanistan and has lived in Switzerland for almost five years, describes his situation as follows: "Our life is like a ship on a stormy sea, hoping to find a safe harbour. We found the harbor in Switzerland, but unfortunately we can't dock here." Sayed, who speaks Swiss German as well as German, had to abandon an apprenticeship he had started after the negative asylum decision.

The Refugee Parliament, which met for the first time this Sunday, should also be a step towards real democracy, said one participant at the opening. The parliament itself also had high democratic standards for its own processes. Since the end of April, around 75 refugees from 19 cantons and 15 countries had prepared themselves online in 9 commissions for the first refugee session and had worked out proposals. On the day itself, all 30 or so demands were once again discussed in all commissions, in some cases adapted and presented in plenary. On this basis, the session participants then selected 10 demands that were presented to Swiss politicians from various parties and supporting organisations.

Jeyani Thiagaraja, participant of our project MePower, was part of the health commission. Beforehand, she told us about her motivation to participate in the Refugee Parliament and the demands discussed in the commission.

Understanding demands

The demands met with understanding among the parliamentarians present and some promised to pursue individual concerns. For example, Zurich SP National Councillor Céline Widmer said: "Hardship applications are implemented differently in different cantons. There needs to be opportunities for regularisation in every canton, so that many more hardship applications are possible - that's good both for the people concerned and for Switzerland." Currently, refugees can apply for hardship after five years of residence in Switzerland at the earliest, and the hurdles for success are very high.

Zurich FDP National Councillor Andri Silberschmidt, on the other hand, supports the demand that refugees should be able to complete their apprenticeship or training even after their asylum application has been rejected: "No matter what the asylum decision is, it should be possible to complete an apprenticeship. It makes sense whether a person stays or returns. Every person in Switzerland needs a perspective for an apprenticeship or a course of study. The permeability of the Swiss education system is a strength that should also be open to refugees." A motion to this effect was adopted by the National Council in 2020, but rejected by the Council of States earlier this year.

The 2021 Refugee Parliament is just the beginning. Refugee Amine Diare Conde, who moderated the panel portion of the event, held at the end, "As of today, the voices of refugees are no longer ignored. They want to think and have their say because they directly experience how our asylum system works - or doesn't."

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