Is it easy to integrate into Switzerland?

How a young migrant integrates into Switzerland with the help of a family

In Suhr, an architect and her son have taken in a young migrant from Iran. You now call yourself a good shared apartment.

It wasn't as if Petri Zimmermann, an architect from the canton of Aargau, wanted to get involved in world politics. She also didn't want to set an example or look good in front of her neighbors. Zimmermann, 57 years old, born in the Netherlands and in Switzerland since she was 17, says it just so happened that she took in a refugee at her home. "Life just goes its way," she says, and it sounds as if it all happened casually, almost as a matter of course. And so on Pentecost Sunday stood in front of her door: Hamed, 18 years old, a Muslim with curly black hair, fled Iran when she was 15. He was carrying a suitcase and two huge, soft plush bears, one white, the other red.

It has been six months since then. One Monday towards the end of the year at 5 p.m. at Zimmermann's home in Suhr. The light in the dining area is warm golden, the walls are made of light wood. A key jingles at the front door, Hamed comes in and puts down his bag; his day at the cantonal school for vocational training is over. Next summer he will start training as a meat specialist. "Hoi Hamed!" Shouts Zimmermann, and Lola, the black poodle lady, rushes towards him. Jasper, Zimmermann's 23-year-old son, is also at home. He wants to become a social worker and is currently doing an internship in a school home. "We are something like a good flat-sharing community," says Zimmermann.

They often come together, but ultimately everyone goes their own way. Now have a quick dinner, then Jasper and Hamed want to play football. There is bread, cheese, sauerkraut and Kabuli Palau, an Afghan rice dish with lamb, carrots and raisins. Hamed cooked it. From outside, the fat, white cat Jason looks through the patio door, he too is a foundling. A few years ago Jasper found him in the garden crouching in a crack and screaming.

Fled as a minor

It was in 2015, the height of the refugee crisis, when Hamed came to Europe via the Balkan route. Angela Merkel's much-quoted sentence “We can do it” also became a personal resolution for tens of thousands of refugee helpers. Over time, however, the volunteers also had to ask themselves critical questions. About the human rescuers in the Mediterranean it was said that they indirectly promoted the business of smugglers. Another allegation was that the helpers downplayed problems with refugees. Significantly fewer people are now coming to Europe, and other aspects are in the foreground: the migration pact, for example, or the long-term integration of refugees into the labor market. But there are still people who help in principle, who want to accompany a refugee into a new, independent life. Who open their door and say: welcome.

Hamed was born in Afghanistan. When he was six months old, his parents fled with him to Iran. Because her stay remained illegal, the necessary papers for school attendance were missing. At the age of six, says Hamed, he therefore began to work: in the supermarket, in the printing shop, as a flower seller. A long-term perspective with no prospects. “I just wanted a better life,” he says today. In December 2015, he took a taxi from home and got off a train at Zurich main station a month later. The so-called reception and processing center in Kreuzlingen assigned him to the Südallee refugee accommodation in Suhr. From now on Hamed was an "Uma", an unaccompanied minor refugee.

At 18, Hamed had to leave the accommodation and came to Petri Zimmermann through a member of the community. Suhr is manageable; you know each other. "I was just asked," says Zimmermann. The fact that she is now supposed to be something of a refugee helper surprised her the most; Until then, the topic hadn't played a role in her everyday life. The move was organized by Swiss Refugee Aid. After getting to know each other, the carpenter immediately said yes. “We don't make such decisions for long,” says the 57-year-old. "Most of the time it turns out well."

"I just like to have people in the house," says Petri Zimmermann, "we used to have a lot of free beds."

Zimmermann and her husband, also an architect, live separately. In 1998 they designed the estate in Suhr. Ten cube-like houses, wooden buildings with floor-to-ceiling windows, stand on a meadow between fruit trees. In the past the children romped on the grass here, today the families still meet every Wednesday for lunch in the garden house. Those who live here also opt for a community. You are instantly by you; if you want to visit, you knock on the window.

Life belongs in a house

Zimmermann let her closest neighbors know about her plans. “Of course I didn't know what to expect,” she says. It was important to her that Hamed found connections in the settlement and was also welcome at lunch. The next two families, they say, supported Zimmermann's decision. A neighbor has sponsored a refugee herself, and Hamed plays on the same football team with the son of another neighbor. Hamed's relationship with the neighbors is, it seems, as normal as it is unspectacular: watching football together during the World Cup, from time to time having lunch together. The neighbors say: How bad must it be in Syria or Afghanistan when the refugees make their way to Europe? Switzerland could well bear that! But they also say: Everyone is different. Often living together succeeds, sometimes not.

Zimmermann's doors have always been open. "I just like to have people in the house," she says. "We used to have a lot of free beds, that was always important to me." Her children regularly brought visitors home with them to spend the night, and even later, when her older daughter had moved out and a room became available, guests kept staying with her. Hamed's room is now on the first floor: bed, desk, football pictures on the walls. On the side are the two huge plush bears that his Afghan friend, who also lives in Switzerland, gave him for his birthday.

There are now hardly any language barriers. Hamed's German is now good, he understands almost everything. Only sometimes do the three search for the correct translation in the online dictionary. When he talks about his escape and looks for the word for the man who brought him to Europe: “smuggler”. Religious dietary regulations are also rarely an issue here. Hamed is a Muslim, but unlike strict believers, he does not generally reject pork. Hamed says: Sometimes he does without, sometimes not. When he was doing an internship at the butcher, he also made pork meatballs. Some Muslims pray five times a day. “Not so important to me,” Hamed dismisses. He says that it is enough for him that he thinks of God and knows that he is there.

Convey a modern image of women

In any case, little is said about politics in the budget. "Hamed didn't come to us as a refugee either, but primarily as a person from Iran," says Zimmermann. Only sometimes, when a topic is discussed in public, attacks on women for example, does she also speak to Hamed: about equality and that women in this country naturally went to work. Hamed says he thinks it's good.

6.30 p.m., warming up on the football pitch in Suhr. Besides Jasper and Hamed, there are a few other young men on the square, half of them locals, the other refugees. The “Football Friends” initiative has been meeting there every Monday for about three years. At the edge, one of the founders, is one of the founders, wearing a hat and warming his hands. Why does football serve integration? “Because it's so easy!” Says Häuser and laughs. “With football you can communicate all over the world. And football is also integration: it's about discipline, about classification and subordination. " The rules on the pitch are clear: to greet them, the players look each other in the eye and they speak German. While some locals often only perceive the refugees as groups of strangers standing at the train station, people should meet at eye level on the square.

Jasper says he got something like a brother through Hamed. The two of them go out together, dance until the early morning in the «Kiff», a club in Aarau. And Zimmermann also had a kind of second son. At some point Hamed asked whether he could address her as "Mam"; Only if Jasper agreed, of course, he followed suit. He was allowed to.