6th Council Meeting Irene

My commitment for refugees
My commitment for refugees has its roots actually here in Iceland: 31 years ago. I was staying as a migrant for a year in Island, working as a physiotherapist in Akureyri. One very important experience during this time was how nourishing and connecting it was to get in real contact and feel welcomed by local people. So, back home, whenever I met some foreigner in the street looking for help, I usually made contact.

In August 2015 a 5-minute encounter with a young Tibetan woman on the train was the beginning of my voluntary commitment for the cause of refugees. In a short conversation I was told in broken English that the young woman with the two little bags was not, as I had first presumed, a tourist, but a refugee on her way to the shelter she had been allocated to, situated in a small town in the East of Switzerland. Quickly I passed her my mobile number before I got off the train – just in case. Three weeks later she really did call me, and we fixed a date for me to visit her. I became aware that I had absolutely no clue on the subject of refugees! So I contacted the managing director of the shelter to find out whether I was allowed to visit her, whether it would be possible to take her out… The first visit at her place with subsequent hike was to be followed by many further encounters until now.

Out of this experience I was much more open to the concerns of refugees, and I searched the internet for information about Swiss refugee politics.

In February 16, together with my husband, I spent a week as a volunteer in a transit centre on the Balkan route in Serbia. There we gave out tea, soup and clothes round the clock. The people were exhausted, and in rainy weather soaked to the skin from their strenuous trek along marshy paths. Now the Balkan-Refugees took shape and face for us.Humans of all walks of life of many different countries and social classes. With some of them conversation was possible in English, with others there was only body language for communication – and empathy and sometimes humor.

Very deeply touched by this experience I was now following the news around refugees from a very different perspective. And I decided to become active locally. I followed the charities’ advice to join an already existing project.

Thus I found “Horizons”, a project of a church in our village – open to all – with the goal of integrating the locally residing refugees into the village community. The weekly café “Horizon” offered German courses, refreshments and socializing.

In this context I taught German for beginners in small groups, occasionally also individual private lessons at my practice. Twice I accompanied asylum seekers to their second interrogation at the Federal Secretariat for Migration in Berne.

In our village of 4000 inhabitants, we had at that time 16 young men and 2 young women at the age between 18 and 30, two families and one couple, coming from Erithrea, Syria, Afghanistan and Iran. Most of them had just arrived in 2016, all waiting for their second interrogation, hoping to be accepted as refugees. During that time they had a place to sleep, a little money and tutoring from the government. But they were neither allowed to work nor to get regular intensive German lessons, and this for up to three years.

By now, all of them got their answers. Some are accepted as refugees, some just for the time being. Three of them had to leave the country. Most of them are now learning German in an official German course and some could start professional training. So now I sometimes meet some of them for a cup of tea, and I take time to be with them to listen what is going on in their lives with friends, families, schools, difficulties and dreams.

Occasionally there are also invitations: from the refugees to us “teachers”; then there is a huge table laden with the most wonderful food from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Erithrea… cooked by the refugees as a “thank-you” to us. These are times when peace on Earth can really be felt!