Monica MalekIntervention by Ms. Monica Malek
Conference on the topic « Multiculturalism: A contribution to Peace ? »
United Nations Office Geneva • Room XIX (19), Geneva, 23 September, 2011

Monica MalekLadies and gentlemen. Please allow me to thank you for your invitation and for the opportunity to speak in this Forum about migration, multiculturalism and peace from a Federal Swiss point of view.

I would like to excuse our Federal Councillor, Head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police, Miss Simonetta Sommaruga, who unfortunately couldn't come herself today.

Statistically Switzerland is a multicultural society. First of all, as you all might know, we have four official languages in our country and therefore four different historical "cultures" (German, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romanic). Secondly, due to a long history of immigration, people with all kinds of cultural backgrounds live in Switzerland right now.

To illustrate this fact, I will give you some figures:

At the end of the year 2010, 1 million and 720 thousand foreigners from about 140 nations lived in Switzerland (they represent 22% of the resident population). In other words, every fifth person living here doesn't have a Swiss passport.
Another fact is that every third marriage is bi-national (between Swiss and foreigners). If we would add the bi-national matrimonies between foreigners themselves, the percentage would even be higher.

The top five countries of origin are European countries:

•    Italy (17,7% of immigrants)
•    Germany (14,2 %)
•    Portugal (12,0 %)
•    Serbia (11,0%)
•    France (5,2%)

Switzerland has a long tradition with the so-called "Gastarbeiter" (guest workers) who immigrated to Switzerland mainly from southern Europe. But due to the agreement on the free movement of persons between Switzerland, the European Union and the EFTA-countries (European Free Trade Area), Switzerland is facing a new immigration influx since 2002.

From that time, about 50'000 individuals from EU-countries migrate to Switzerland every year. The majority of these new immigrants are highly qualified (55% have a university diploma).
In addition to the immigration of qualified or highly qualified EU nationals, Switzerland experiences the additional influx of persons from other regions of the world.
In 2010, Switzerland faced a total of 135’000 new immigrants. One third of them (32.3%) immigrated, based on family reunification.

Clearly, this significant immigration flow puts considerable strain on our society and its resources, which in turn causes reaction within the society. On the whole, though, the coexistence between Swiss nationals and resident immigrants works well.

How can this be achieved? One way to build a peaceful coexistence of all people living in Switzerland, regardless of their origins, is the integration policy. The objectives of the integration policy (as cited in article 4 in the new Aliens Act from 2008) are:

•    Coexistence of the Swiss people and foreigners based on constitutionally entrenched values, mutual respect and tolerance.
•    Inclusion in the social, economic, and cultural life, ensuring equal opportunities.
•    Resident immigrants’ willingness to become integrated and Swiss people’s broad-minded attitude toward resident immigrants.
•    Familiarization with Swiss ways and customs (particularly learning one of the Swiss national languages).

The main four principles for a social coexistence in Switzerland were set as following:

•    realizing equal opportunities
•    use of potentials
•    diversity management
•    request for individual responsibility

Integration takes place mainly in existing structures, touching all aspects and areas of society. The key of integration is an equal access to education and job market. We don’t need new structures and institutions. Integration takes place in the kindergarten, at school, on the job, in the neighbourhood, in numerous clubs and associations.

Additional to that special measures are taken. The specific, complementary integration is intended for specific target groups. Each year about 16 million Swiss francs are being spent by the Swiss government for different projects such as language promotion, pre-schooling, counselling and intercultural interpretation/translation.

I would also like to emphasis some Swiss particularities. Switzerland is:

  • A federal state.
  • Cantons and communities are in charge of many issues which are crucial for integration such as schooling, health services, and accommodation.
  • Cantons and communities started their efforts in promoting integration some time before the implementation of a national integration policy.

Integration in Switzerland therefore works on three levels: State, cantons and communes. The cantons are responsible for the strategies, whereas the federal government is coordinating, subsidizing and setting quality standards.

Being able to live peacefully together, demands action from both sides, the "old" and "new" residents. It is a question of give and take. The "old" residents should be open-minded and encourage the integration of the immigrants while the immigrants should respect the legal and social customs and be willing to integrate themselves (for example in speaking on of the Swiss languages).

Above all, integration not only means supporting someone, but also demanding his or her participation.

The challenges we face are the following:

•    Get everyone involved
•    Embed integration into existing structures
•    Reinforce coordination in a federalist state
•    Make available optimized information to foreigners and Swiss citizens
•    Reconcile demands made by politicians with those of opposing parties (reaching a consensus).

Factors which potentially lead to failed integration efforts are:

•    Inadequate or lack of information
•    Discrimination and prejudice 
•    Legal obstacles.

Additionally, debates on national identification, identity, integration and the different approaches to it are very controversial issues in Switzerland.

Considering the fact that Switzerland has a direct democracy, the public discussion about aspects of living together is probably more intense than in other countries. And they can have some real effects.

One example which I would like to cite here is the approval of the "Initiative against the construction of minarets” on the 29th November 2009. The Federal as well as cantonal governments were opposed to the initiative. However, a majority of 57,5% of the people voting approved it. As a result, in article 72 of the Federal Constitution it is mentioned that the construction of minarets is forbidden.

The reasons why the people approved the initiative are not fully clear. A lot of voters said though, that they wanted to set a symbolical mark against the spread of Islam in Switzerland.

The outcome of the referendum reflects that the people are not fully aware of our efforts in supporting integration and shows the fears of the citizens of the "Other" which is unknown to them.

Likewise, the Swiss government has not yet fully achieved in communicating and explaining the federal integration policy in a credible and coherent way. Discussions following the result of the referendum suggest a need for more action.

As a political measure the Federal authorities have decided to set up a national dialogue between the Federal authorities and the Muslim Community in Switzerland. Since May 2010 several official meetings have taken place between 18 Muslim participants (who were invited personally and not as representatives of certain associations) and 12 representatives from the Federal state.

As the government will pronounce on the outcome and the possible continuation later this year, I cannot go into further details. Anyhow, because in Switzerland the cantons are responsible for all matters concerning the state and religion, it would be of great importance that the local levels (cantons, cities and communes) participate in the dialoge.

Conclusion

A successful integration is the basis of a peaceful coexistence in our societies. Integration is expected to create a better understanding among immigrants and the Swiss population. The economy and culture are taking profit of it as well.
A new integration plan of the government is on its way with partial revision of the law as well as increase of funding for integration measures.

I’m sure that integration works only if both sides - the host as well as the immigrant society - want it and actively work towards it. A good integration policy is distinguished by reliability and mutuality. I’m convinced that an active and demanding integration policy is necessary.

The Swiss federal government recognizes the importance of a sustainable integration policy in order to maintain and to further develop a peaceful society.

Thank you very much for your attention!

Ms. Monica Malek
Specialist,
Federal Department of Justice and Police (Switzerland),
Federal Office for Migration,
Directorate Immigration and Integration,
Division Integration,
Section Development

Ms. Malek studied cultural anthropology, sociology and philosophy in Fribourg and Berne and wrote her thesis (Lizentiatsarbeit) on the integration of Albanian-speaking women at the integration office in Lucerne. She has worked in the Federal Office of Migration since April 2009. Firstly, in the division dealing with the "Free Movement of Persons and Concepts" and since June 2010 in the division of "Integration". She mainly works in the field of dialogue between the Federal State and the Muslim Community.

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