Four chats with four refugees

At the end of November, the Human Living Library was held at Swiss Post headquarters: four refugees told the story of how they came to Switzerland. And how they integrated, in part thanks to Swiss Post’s integration pre-apprenticeship. Here we tell you their accounts.

Claudia Iraoui

Bahlibi Girmay, Eritrean (Copyright: Jan Bill)

Bahlibi Girmay, 30

“I come from Eritrea. The problem in Eritrea was not the war. The problem was and still is the dictatorship, which has been stealing our people’s future for over twenty years. I didn’t want to join the army, so one night I crossed the border into Ethiopia. I spent a year and a half in a refugee camp. Then I crossed the desert through Sudan towards Libya: 27 people, men, women and children, there was barely room to sit down. Around us, the noise of guerilla warfare on the border with Egypt. I stopped over in Benghazi and then in Tripoli. Finally, we had the chance to get on a boat. They packed 300 people onto a small, shabby vessel. Fortunately, after twenty hours at sea, we came across an Italian ship that took us to Sicily. I didn’t want to stay at the refugee center, however, so one night I escaped with six other people. I knew that my brother, with whom I’d had no contact since he left, lived in Zurich. So, I took the train. When I hugged him again, it was wonderful. Now I live in Trimbach with my partner, and we have a 10-month-old baby. My family in Eritrea misses me a lot, but for me, Switzerland is home now.”

Bashir Tahar, Eritrean (Copyright: Jan Bill)

Bashir Tahar, 21

“The Eritrean military dictatorship is now using the war with Ethiopia to justify open-ended military service, sometimes for up to 30 years. My father had already died in the war, and I didn’t want that to happen to me, too. So when they came to pick me up for military service, I jumped off the van and escaped to Sudan. In Khartoum, I worked as an assistant chef and dishwasher. From time to time, I made ends meet by selling soap in a market. But I couldn’t go on like that – so I crossed the desert, and we set off by boat from Tripoli to Lampedusa. We almost died, because the boat was taking on water. We had to empty it out with water bottles to stop it from sinking. In Italy, we went from Lampedusa to Milan, through Catania, Cagliari and Rome. From Milan Central, I entered Switzerland in Chiasso, where the police arrested me. At the Kreuzlingen refugee center, I was interviewed and my personal details were checked. I was then sent to the asylum center in Solothurn. The time I spent in the asylum center was the most difficult period for me. I wondered what I was doing here, it seemed that I was losing a year of my life. Of course, I miss my mum very much, but now I’m happy, I’m well integrated, I’m taking a training course and I have lots of friends. I appreciate that I’m free and that I can say what I think. I hope to make my dream of becoming a businessman a reality!”

Mohammad Basir Sediqi, afghan (Copyright: Jan Bill)

Mohammad Basir Sediqi, 21

“Switzerland is a very beautiful country that has offered me countless opportunities. I can live my own life in peace, I can go to school and I can work. Not like in my home country, Afghanistan, where war is raging. I was 17 when I left with my parents and siblings. I didn’t know anything about Switzerland, we had no idea where we would end up. We did part of the journey by car and part on foot. It took us four months to cross Turkey on foot. We then went through Greece and the Balkans before arriving in Switzerland. I would have liked to study, but my German wasn’t good enough. So I started to look for a job. My preference was Swiss Post because, as a big company, it offers a wide range of opportunities. I remember my first day at work: it was a whole new world to discover, about which I knew next to nothing, and in the evenings I was completely exhausted. But I’m sure that new doors will open for me in a few years. I’ve now been in Switzerland for four years. I have my own apartment. Sometimes I’m sad because I realize that people are afraid of me due to the fact that I’m a foreigner. I really miss Afghanistan. If it weren’t for the war, I would honestly go back.”

Henok Afewerki, Eritrean (Copyright: Jan Bill)

Henok Afewerki, 25

“In Eritrea, you have to join the army when you turn 18. I was in the middle of a programme on which I had to spend a certain period of time doing military training and then another period of time studying to become a mechanic. At one point, for no apparent reason, they made us march for a month to the city of Nafka. They gave us little to eat, and we slept on the roadside. In hindsight, I think it was a kind of punishment for anyone who didn’t get good marks at school. We stayed in Nafka without any education and in a precarious situation. So I fled to Khartoum in Sudan. On 4 June, I started my journey to Europe. It was a difficult and perilous journey: it took about ten days to cross the Sahara on a roofless pickup truck, sitting on bottles of water, followed by stops in Ajdabia and Tripoli. At the camp, we were watched over by guards, it was like being in prison. If you paid, you could leave for Italy. A cousin from South Sudan paid for me. The 15-hour crossing was terrible: I can barely swim, and I was seasick. I was afraid. I didn’t know if we would ever arrive. Then an Italian boat came to our rescue. I was so happy! But I didn’t want to stay in Italy, so I came to the Canton of Solothurn via Milan, Chiasso and Kreuzlingen. I really appreciate the freedom that Switzerland offers, the chance to work and, even through I miss my family, I would never go back. I saw my parents in Ethiopia two months ago, because I married my long-time girlfriend. If all goes well, she’ll come to Switzerland in six months. I still don’t feel perfectly integrated because I have some difficulties with the language, but my work and my colleagues in Härkingen have helped me a lot.”

The integration pre-apprenticeship

In December 2015, the Federal Council decided to make the professional integration of recognized refugees and temporarily admitted persons in Switzerland quicker and more long-lasting. For this reason, it launched the integration pre-apprenticeship. Since 2016, Swiss Post has offered a total of 34 one-year integration pre-apprenticeship positions, nine of which are in the Härkingen parcel center. At the end of the integration pre-apprenticeships, the participants found employment, including at Swiss Post.

written by

Claudia Iraoui

Channel Manager Digital