Geneva / Switzerland

Xenophobia Rears Its Ugly Head

Since I arrived in Switzerland in early October 2013, I have been hearing rumors about a referendum that was set to take place early in 2014 to decide whether or not the Swiss were going make their immigration policies more stringent. Yesterday I saw the following poster from my seat on the bus I usually take home:

photo (1)

It reads (in my very rough translation):

“Let’s stop mass immigration in its tracks. [Switzerland is] full. Vote YES! Put an end to the influx of frontaliers (people who cross the border from France to work in Switzerland).”

The last sentence is not pictured because I cropped the photo, since someone happened to stand right in front of the poster as I was taking the photo (and the bus was starting to drive away).

According to the BBC, Switzerland already has immigration caps on eight central and eastern European states (Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic), granting only 2,180 permits valid for 12 months. If the referendum is approved by the general public, the caps will be extended to 17 other EU states, capping permits at 53, 700 for 12 months. Restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians are even more severe.

Although Switzerland is not a part of the EU, it decided to sign the freedom of movement agreement in 1999, with the right to enact a “safeguard clause” if the annual influx exceeded a predetermined number. And, in fact, not one but two referendums will take place this year to come to a conclusion on the matter.

Allegedly the Portuguese will be hit the hardest. That’s sad to hear considering I hear more Portuguese on the streets here in Geneva than I do French (which means I get to practice it, too!). There are also so many Portuguese working in supermarkets and in other modest positions all over the city. It is also because of the large number of Portuguese immigrants here in Geneva that I can enjoy quality Compal brand juice and other products (like canned black beans!). If it were up to the Swiss my diet would consist of cheese and charcuterie… (as the photo below would suggest).

The Swiss flag, made of Swiss cheese and charcuterie.

Although every country in Europe will continue to have their natives, their distinct customs, language or dialects, etc., right-wing conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that no one country, not even Switzerland, will remain homogenous in the foreseeable future, at least not unless they adopt isolationist policies.

Has immigration really reached “unsustainable levels?” It smells like a bad case of xenophobia to me.

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