Swiss photographers help expelled refugee

Swiss photographers help expelled refugee
Photographer Aram Karim must leave Switzerland. Photo: Keystone / Laurent Gillieron
A group of photographers in Switzerland is campaigning to help a respected Iraqi photographer and refugee who has been told he must leave the country.

Aram Karim, a photojournalist whose work has been published in the New York Times, fled Iraq last year and became a refugee in Switzerland in November.

But on March 1st the Swiss government refused his application to stay, revoking his refugee status and saying he must leave for France under the terms of the Dublin agreement, which dictates that refugees must apply for asylum in the European country they first arrived in.

The decision has dismayed Photojournalists Switzerland, an association that has been helping Karim since his arrival in Switzerland.

 “I met him in Switzerland, in December,” Laurent Gilliéron, a photographer for agency Keystone and member of Photojournalists Switzerland tells The Local.

“I saw his story in Le Temps and it really moved me. I got in contact and we went from there.”

With the help of the canton of Vaud’s refugee aid group EVAM, the photographers helped Karim find lodgings and establish himself in Switzerland.

“He had the chance to work with us, to make something of a life; he is surrounded by photographers, with people who put him up,” says Gilliéron.

“I think it’s a shame that he can’t stay in Switzerland. With everything around him he would have had the chance to take steps forward.”

Despite being embraced by the photography community here, Karim’s application to stay was last week refused by the federal government and he currently awaits a date to leave.

 “It’s a loss for Switzerland and also a loss of his viewpoint,” adds Gilliéron, who feels there would be a benefit to the country for Karim to stay.

“The current migration crisis is affecting Switzerland – a lot less than other countries but still it does affect Switzerland – and it’s very difficult to document.

“The press employ people like me to document the situation but I can only spend an hour or two in a refugee shelter, for example. He can show the viewpoint of a refugee. I think that’s very interesting.”

After a failed appeal, there is little they can do now to help Karim to stay.

“He still thinks that he will be able to stay in Switzerland. Even though we’ve explained to him. I think that he is refusing the truth a bit. That’s visibly the case for lots of refugees,” Gilliéron tells The Local.

However in an attempt to draw attention to his situation and his work, Photojournalists Switzerland is staging an exhibition of his photos in Lausanne on March 9th.

And they have also re-equipped him with a camera, having sold his own to fund his journey here.

“We wanted that at least he will leave with the equipment that he had before,” says Gilliéron.

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