"Mr. Bensoussan is not with us anymore"

Photo by Jimmy Chan from Pexels

Airport Penitentiary Zurich, how can I help you?
Hi, this is Tobias Ochsenbein, I’d like to schedule a visit.
Sure, who would you like to visit?
I would like to visit Ahmed Bensoussan.
Let me see, Ahmed Bensoussan. That is not possible, Mr. Bensoussan is not with us anymore.

Since January, I have been part of a group of volunteers who visit people in pre-expulsion detention. Regularly, we visit those men and women who have requested a visit from one of us. Our motivation is to lend them an ear and show that there are still people out there who are aware of and empathize with them.

While the name above is not real, the conversation is. I had been visiting this man since July and yesterday when I tried to schedule my next visit, this is the answer I got. All my visits end with such a call, without any information as to what has happened or where they have gone. What it usually means is that the government has succeeded in expulsing them to their countries of origin.

None of the people we visit have committed a crime. The only reason why they are being detained is that they have entered Switzerland “illegally” and have not succeeded in obtaining a permit to stay. When that happens, they must leave Switzerland, and when they refuse to do so, they can be detained for up to 18 months.

While their names change, their reasons for coming to Europe, or the stories of how they got here, they all have one thing in common. The motivation for risking their lives on the journey to Europe: the hope for a better future. Ahmed once summarized it for me in a simple statement: “I’m not asking for anything. All I want is a chance. A chance to work, to have a home, find a wife. That is no demand, that should be right of everyone.”

And if you ask me, he is right. All these people are doing what human beings have done throughout the history of mankind: migrate in search of better lives.

And what do we do?
We make it harder and harder for them to succeed. We spend money to keep people detained, sending them back, and dismantle their biographies because they might not have the right reasons for seeking asylum.

Is this just?
Well, the best way to answer this is to ask yourself if this is how you would like to be treated if you were in a similar situation.

Does this solve the problem?
Obviously not. We lose because instead of allowing everyone to start new, we spend money on a system that doesn’t work. They lose because instead of building their future, they wither away in prison. We all lose, because instead of solving problems, we are multiplying them.

Europe, the migration crisis is not over. We cannot give in to nationalist rhetoric. Let us solve this problem and give people a chance to build new lives.

And until we get there, support projects like our We Are One Center on Samos. Liska and her team are doing important work there and need all the support they can get. Thank you.

We Are One Center is an initiative of Glocal Roots.


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