Swiss photographers help expelled refugee

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.

Swiss photographers help expelled refugee
Photographer Aram Karim must leave Switzerland. Photo: Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

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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EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

Moving to another country is never easy, as it requires going through cultural changes and administrative formalities. It can be even more complicated when looking for a job.

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

According to new data released by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, the knowledge of the national language and the recognition of professional qualifications are the two most common obstacles experienced by foreign-born people in finding a ‘suitable’ job in countries of the European Union.

Overall, about a quarter of people born outside the EU who had experience in working or looking for work in the bloc reported some difficulties getting a ‘suitable’ job for level of education (without considering the field of expertise or previous experience).

The Eurostat analysis shows that the situation is better for EU citizens moving within the bloc. But there are major differences depending on countries and gender.

Life can be more difficult for women

In 2021, 13.2 percent of men and 20.3 percent of women born in another European Union country reported obstacles in getting a suitable job in the EU place of residence.

These proportions however increase to 20.9 percent for men and 27.3 percent for women born in a non-EU country with a high level of development (based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index) and 31.1 percent for men and 35.7 percent for women from non-EU countries with a low or medium level of development.

Finland (42.9 percent), Sweden (41.7 percent), Luxembourg (34.6 percent) and France (32.1 percent) are the countries with the highest shares of people born outside the EU reporting problems. Norway, which is not part of the bloc, has an even higher percentage, 45.2, and Switzerland 34.3 percent.

In contrast, Cyprus (11.2 percent), Malta (10.9 percent), Slovenia (10.2 percent), Latvia (10 percent) and Lithuania (6.7 percent) have the lowest proportion of people born outside the EU reporting difficulties.

Lack of language skills

The lack of skills in the national language is most commonly cited as a hurdle, and it is even more problematic for women.

This issue was reported by 4.2 percent of men born in another EU country, 5.3 percent of those born in a developed country outside the EU and 9.7 percent of those from a non-EU country with a middle or low level of development. The corresponding shares for women, however, were 5.6, 6.7 and 10.5 percent respectively.

The countries where language skills were more likely to be reported by non-EU citizens as an obstacle in getting a relevant job were Finland (22.8 percent), Luxembourg (14.7 percent) and Sweden (13.1 percent).

As regards other countries covered by The Local, the percentage of non-EU citizens citing the language as a problem was 12.4 percent in Austria, 10.2 percent in Denmark, 7.8 percent in France, 5.1 percent in Italy, 2.7 percent in Spain, 11.1 percent on Norway and 10.1 percent in Switzerland. Data is not available for Germany.

Portugal (77.4 percent), Croatia (68.8 percent), Hungary (58.8 percent) and Spain (58.4 percent) have the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving, while more than 70 percent of non-EU citizens residing in Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Norway said they had participated in language courses after arrival.

Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving. (Photo by Aayush Gupta on Unsplash)

Recognition of qualifications

Another hurdle on the way to a relevant job in EU countries is the lack of recognition of a formal qualification obtained abroad. This issue was reported by 2 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women born in another EU country. It was also mentioned by 3.3 percent of men and 5.9 percent of women born in a developed country outside the EU, and 4.8 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Eurostat says this reflects an “unofficial distrust” among employers of qualification obtained abroad and the “low official validation of foreign education”.

The lack of availability of a suitable job was another factor mentioned in the survey. In Croatia, Portugal and Hungary, this was the main obstacle to getting an adequate position.

This issue concerned 3.3 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women born in another EU country, 4.2 percent of men and 5 percent of women born in a developed non-EU country It also worried 3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Restricted right to work due to citizenship or residence permits, as well as plain discrimination on the grounds of origin were also cited as problems.

Discrimination was mostly reported by people born in a less developed non-EU country (3.1 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women) compared to people born in highly developed non-EU countries (1.9 percent for men and 2.2 percent for women).

Citizenship and residence permits issues are unusual for people from within the EU. For people from outside the EU, this is the only area where women seem to have fewer problems than men: 1.6 percent of women from developed non-EU countries reported this issue, against 2.1 percent of men, with the share increasing to 2.8 and 3.3 percent respectively for women and men from less developed non-EU states.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.