Opening doors – and hearts – to migrants

SWITZERLAND • “My Swiss family is incredible. They have helped me so much,” said Mr Morad Essa, a young Eritrean.

He was the first asylum seeker chosen to take part in a housing programme launched by the Swiss Refugee Council for those who are likely to stay on in the country.

He arrived in 2015 in Lully, a small Vaudois municipality. Hosting migrants is a practice that has taken off in several Swiss cantons. In Vaud, over the last two years, 200 migrants have benefited from it.

When Mr Morad arrived at his new home, he could not speak a word of French. His stay was supposed to last six months, but he ended up staying for two years. Now, he speaks the language well, feels integrated and is looking for work as an apprentice. He wants to be a mechanic.

According to the Vaudois Institute for migrant hospitality, hosting of adult or minor refugees by families accelerates their integration into society, while facilitating the language-learning process.

It is also less expensive for the canton and helps to reduce prejudices.

“We incorporate those most likely to stay on in Switzerland, such as Iraqis, Syrians, Eritreans and Afghans.

“We have held presentation evenings and nowadays, through word of mouth, it‘s pretty easy to find families willing to host migrants,” said Ms Marie-Claire Maillard, who is in charge of the institute‘s migrant hospitality programme.

In Switzerland‘s Italian region, Adem (not his real name), a 15-year-old unaccompanied migrant from Ethiopia, has been living near Lugano with the Schoepf family since last August.

“Adem is like a son to us now. We welcomed him into our family because we wanted him to have the best possible chance to make it in Switzerland. Adem has been a great gift,” said host Simona Spinedi Schoepf.