UN Special
   
                    Genève internationale

INTEGRATION IN SWITZERLAND

VIEWS OF MR. CRUZ MELCHOR EYA NCHAMA, MUNICIPAL COUNSELLOR

MR. CRUZ MELCHOR EYA NCHAMA

EUGENE JAMES

The topic of integration covers a range of themes and stakeholders. Implications are immense and through sound policies the opportunities can benefit immigrants as well as the hosts. In other words, with the right approach, the stakeholders build a “win-win” outcome. In Switzerland, the political system comprises of three levels, i.e. the Federal level, the Cantonal level and finally the Municipal level.

At each level, the decision-makers carry equal responsibility towards the process of integration. Indeed a Swiss National belongs first and foremost to a particular commune. Hence, integration in Switzerland necessitates a thorough immersion into a community.

On the occasion of the Swiss referendum on the free movement of persons from Romania and Bulgaria, a municipal counsellor addresses the various human, historical, social, economic and political dimensions of the immigration and integration processes in Switzerland. Mr. Cruz Melchor Eya Nchama possesses extensive work experience with the United Nations where he worked for the Human Rights Commission. In parallel, Mr. Eya Nchama is a member of the municipal counsel of Grand Saconnex of which he was the president between 2005 and 2006.

According to Mr. Eya Nchama, “will power” plays a central role in the process of integration. He suggests that the immigrant and the host community need to apply will power to render integration successful. They must keep their doors open, so the immigrant and the hosts have equal responsibility. Ideally their will power must intertwine in a manner that forges dialogue, mutual respect and tolerance.

In Geneva, there is a historical tradition of immigration and integration. In fact, the founders of the modern city were natives of a foreign nation.

Today, visitors pay their respect to these founding fathers at the Reformation Wall in the “Bastions” park. Immigration acquired more significance in Geneva, from the 17th century onwards when the King of France at the time – Louis XIV – revoked the edict of Nantes. His decision led to the persecution of Protestants who decided to flee their homeland, so they travelled to Geneva where they took refuge. They adopted the city and they reconstructed their lives on a stable foundation.

Gradually, across the centuries, the city of Geneva has brought together heterogeneous groups of people. However the integration of foreigners has not erased the multicultural character of the city and Swiss people of foreign origin conserve their heritage. Mr. Eya Nchama, who is of Guinea Equatorial origin, argues that immigrants need to maintain knowledge of their ancestry and the civilization from which they descend. In parallel, he stresses that every citizen must be literate, which facilitates integration. In other words, immigrants must master the language of their host country to be able to communicate with fellow citizens.

Aside the individual dimension of integration, with a specific reference to “will power”, there are measures within the Swiss Federal system and the Geneva Cantonal system that catalyze the process of integration. At each level of government, there are commissions that play an advisory role towards the executive branch in regard to immigration and integration policy. A unique feature is that these commissions comprise of Swiss national as well as naturalized Swiss citizens. Moreover the Swiss government encourages citizens of foreign origin to create civil society groups that promote cultural diversity.

The phenomenon of immigration and integration cross cut into various fields of society, politics and the economy. Hence immigration and integration need to be treated very seriously since the ramifications are widespread. For instance, they have an impact upon the structure of the job market. On the one hand, local nationals tend to perceive the influx of immigrants as a source of threat to the domestic job market, especially when the unemployment rate is relatively high. On the other hand immigrants generally feel discriminated at the workplace when they apply for jobs.

However in Geneva, the government recommends the policy of “anonymous CVs” towards employers to reduce the problem of discrimination. In fact, this problem extends beyond the simple distinction between a foreigner and a local citizen, since women and people above the age of fifty-five tend to be discriminated as well.

Immigrants experience other woes that directly affect their reputation and integrity. Indeed, certain political groups entirely lay the blame for criminality in Switzerland on the shoulders of the immigrants. They argue that criminal gangs essentially comprise of foreigners that engage in drug trafficking, theft or aggression. The same political groups build a climate of fear on the basis of certain slogans and campaigns that overly simplify the issue of criminality. These tactics lack a proper ground in facts and reality. In fact, Mr. Eya Nchama adds in a philosophical way that “criminals are not born”. In other words, each person chooses to become a criminal and it is not the person’s race that determines whether the person becomes a criminal. Therefore one cannot attribute criminality to race.

The process of immigration and integration has reached unparalleled levels. In fact the process has an “inexorable” nature, according to Mr. Eya Nchama, whereby people increasingly adopt manners and fashion that stem from foreign cultures. Mr. Eya Nchama concludes that multiculturalism, which is a product of immigration and integration, leads to the gradual decrease of conflicts, fascism and all other forms of extreme ideologies.

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