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Collaboration for the Integration of Teenage Asylum Seekers

With a growing number of teenage asylum seekers arriving in Switzerland, it is crucial to address their challenges and vulnerabilities, and to support their successful integration. These young individuals often arrive alone, fleeing persecution and violence, only to encounter numerous obstacles in their new environment. This article explores the complexities of their integration, highlighting the critical areas of language, education, social support, and mental health. A collaborative, multi-faceted approach can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for teenagers having to flee their country and arriving in Switzerland to build a new life.

Dieser Text ist im Rahmen des Reatch Ideenwettbewerbs 2023 entstanden. 2023 war ein besonderes Jahr für die Schweiz: Wir feierten 175 Jahre Bundesverfassung und damit 175 Jahre Schweizer Bundesstaat. Das nahmen wir zum Anlass, um nach Ideen für die Zukunft der Schweiz zu suchen. Welche Weichen müssen wir heute stellen, damit im Jahr 2198 die Menschen mit dem gleichen Stolz auf 2023 zurückblicken, wie wir heute auf die Entwicklungen seit 1848? Eine Auswahl der eingereichten Ideen wird auf veröffentlicht.

The Global Phenomenon of Asylum-Seeking in Switzerland

Switzerland has not remained unaffected by the global phenomenon of asylum-seeking, including among teenagers. The asylum situation in Switzerland, especially concerning teenagers, poses a complex challenge for both the government and civil society. The number of teenage asylum seekers is growing and is expected to reach even higher levels in the upcoming years. This is why preparations are needed to facilitate their integration and create an environment where all affected parties can benefit.

Vulnerability of Teenagers: A Focused Approach

This article focuses on teenagers since they are a particularly vulnerable group experiencing a difficult phase in their lives, needing to build entirely new lives already at such a young age without stability or support. Many of them arrive alone, without the support of adult family members, fleeing their countries of origin for various reasons, such as persecution, violence, war, and economic hardship. Switzerland, as a signatory to international treaties like the 1951 Refugee Convention, has an obligation to provide protection to those seeking asylum, which includes ensuring the safety and well-being of teenage asylum-seekers. It is often forgotten that their hardships continue even after arriving in unfamiliar Switzerland. The challenges young asylum-seekers face include legal complexities, which are hard to navigate due to their lack of understanding of the language. To prevent them from being highly vulnerable to exploitation, it is crucial that the state ensures that their rights are being upheld. All children have the fundamental right to education; however, bureaucratic hurdles and a lack of resources often limit the educational opportunities of young asylum-seekers. Mental health issues are prevalent among teenagers who have experienced traumatic events in their home countries or during their journey to Switzerland. The isolation and uncertainty that can accompany the asylum process can exacerbate these issues, making mental health support essential.

Social Integration Challenges

Social integration is often a challenge, as language barriers, cultural differences, and social stigmatization can hinder the successful integration of these young people into their host communities. Arriving alone in a new and unfamiliar country, and facing all of these challenges at the same time, can be overwhelming and can cause teenagers to feel lost and isolated. There are organizations that try to help with their integration and the start of their new lives, but they mostly focus on one aspect of their lives, for example housing or education, without regarding other facets. Consequently, teenagers become dependent on the opportunities presented to them without the ability to access them independently. Many teenagers are motivated to get involved, but lack the resources to figure out how, due to multiple barriers that prevent them from accessing the necessary information. Furthermore, information is often presented in a confusing and inaccessbile way.

Possible Solution: Integration Opportunities Platform

This is where my idea comes into play. In its simplicity, I aim to make integration opportunities more accessible by addressing language barriers, ease of operation, and providing clear information to teenage asylum seekers. For instance, this could involve offering language classes, well organized paperwork for accessing education or employment, and ensuring that essential information about available resources and support services is available and understandable. This is essential for ensuring their well-being and long-term success. This can be achieved through a platform that presents opportunities and categorizes them into sections such as Language and Cultural Integration, Social Integration, Education and Vocational Training, and 18-year-old Transition Guidance. The platform would be constantly updated with the latest opportunities, and asylum seekers would be able to submit their personal requests for programs through the site to be taken into consideration. In this way, the platform would serve as a direct connection point for asylum seekers and various opportunities available to them, allowing them to explore their own interests. The platform would be accessible for organizations and companies to announce their openings and engagement opportunities. Successful integration of teenagers can lead to many positive outcomes for the Swiss population, including helping to balance the age distribution and providing care for the elderly population.

Collaborative Action

Addressing the asylum issue of teenagers in Switzerland requires the collaborative efforts of different actors and organizations. Through my proposed platform this collaboration of organizations would be easier to implement and clearer to navigate and understand the existing opportunities. The goal would be to create a point of convergence for the collaboration of many parties. For example, there are various NGOs in Switzerland, such as Caritas, the Swiss Red Cross, and Terre des Hommes, which work to support refugees and asylum-seekers, providing essential services, including legal aid, psychosocial support, and integration programs. Legal aid organizations specializing in refugee and asylum law, such as the Swiss Association for Asylum Law (SAA), offer assistance to navigate the complex asylum process. Educational institutions, such as schools and language centers are also crucial and collaboration with organizations like the Swiss Federation of Adult Learning (SVEB) can be beneficial. Healthcare providers, including Swiss Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), offer medical and mental health support. Local community organizations and volunteer groups can also provide valuable support, including mentorship, language practice, and cultural integration. Media outlets, advocacy groups, and human rights organizations can raise public awareness about the asylum issues faced by teenage refugees and advocate for improved policies and support. Furthermore, private sector companies and employers can play a role in offering internships and employment opportunities to teenage asylum-seekers to promote their economic integration.

Importance of Ongoing Research

Continuously assessing the situation and having the most current information is vital, which is why ongoing research is needed into specific aspects to keep the platform up-to-date. Research contributes to a better understanding of the challenges faced by this vulnerable population, helps evaluate the effectiveness of existing policies, and identifies areas for improvement so support services can be tailored accordingly. Furthermore, research can facilitate collaboration between government agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders involved in addressing the asylum challenge, helping to bring together experts, practitioners, and policymakers to share knowledge and best practices. Research can also examine the long-term outcomes of teenage asylum-seekers who have gone through the Swiss asylum system, providing insights into their integration into Swiss society, employment prospects, and overall well-being. In addition, it is important to use research to raise public awareness about the challenges faced by teenage asylum-seekers. They can also serve as a basis for advocacy efforts to improve policies and garner support from the public and international organizations.

Building an Inclusive Environment

By making opportunities and support services easily accessible in one place, and by strengthening the collaboration among different organizations, Switzerland can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for teenage asylum-seekers. Improved language skills, cultural understanding, education, and employment opportunities are key factors in helping young people successfully integrate into Swiss society, contribute to their host country, and build a better future for themselves and their society.

The following aspects need to be addressed to improve the integration of young asylum seekers:

Language and Cultural Integration

For teenage asylum seekers, overcoming language barriers and adapting to Swiss culture can be challenging.
Language Courses:
Offer language courses. These courses should focus on practical language skills for daily life, education, and employment.
Cultural Orientation:
Provide cultural orientation programs that educate teenagers about Swiss customs, traditions, and social norms. This helps reduce cultural shock and fosters a sense of belonging.

Social Integration
Peer Support: Pair teenage asylum-seekers with Swiss peers who can guide them in navigating the local culture, education system, and social life. This can help in building relationships and providing emotional support.
Community Involvement:
Encourage teenage asylum-seekers to participate in local community events, sports, or cultural activities.

Education and Vocational Training
Access to education and skills training is vital for the integration of teenage asylum seekers into Swiss society. Specialized programs can be designed to meet their unique needs.
Education Pathways:
Establish flexible educational pathways that consider the individual backgrounds, prior education, and future aspirations of teenage asylum-seekers. These pathways could include catch-up classes, bridge programs, and support for formal education.
Vocational Training:
Promote vocational training programs that lead to recognized qualifications and apprenticeships. This equips teenage asylum-seekers with skills that can facilitate their transition into the Swiss job market.
Career Guidance:
Provide career guidance and counseling to help teenage asylum-seekers make informed choices about their education and future careers. This includes exploring various job sectors and understanding the local job market.
Internship Opportunities:
Collaborate with local businesses and employers to create internship opportunities for teenage asylum-seekers. Internships not only provide practical work experience but also foster integration and open doors to future employment. These can be in many different fields and address environmental issues, which allows for them to become environmentally aware and active.

18-year-old transitions guidance
In addition, the transition after their 18th birthday can be challenging, as they may face changes in their legal status and support systems in addition to the Social and Emotional challenges. To make this transition smoother and possibly contribute to their long-term integration, stability, and well-being in Swiss society, I would provide
Preparation and Legal Support: As teenage asylum seekers approach their 18th birthday; it is crucial to provide them with clear information about the changes in their legal status and the implications of turning 18. To facilitate this transition: Legal Aid Services: Organize legal workshops and information sessions that educate teenage asylum seekers about their rights and responsibilities as adults in Switzerland. Cover topics such as residency permits, employment regulations, and access to social services. Establish a support system that connects them with legal aid services, ensuring they have access to legal assistance if needed. This is particularly important in case their asylum application status changes. Mentorship and Guidance: Assign mentors or social workers who can guide them through the transition process, answer questions, and provide emotional support. Having a trusted adult to turn to can be invaluable.
Continued Educational and Vocational Support:
On their 18th birthday, many teenage asylum seekers might still be pursuing education or vocational training. To ensure they can continue their educational and career development: Flexible Education Pathways: Continue to support their educational and vocational goals by providing flexible pathways that accommodate their changing legal status. This may include extending access to schooling, scholarships, or vocational training. Transition Planning: Develop transition plans that help them navigate the shift from youth-specific programs to adult services. This should include guidance on how to access higher education or vocational training programs. Scholarship and Financial Aid: Offer scholarships or financial aid to help them cover educational expenses and associated costs, such as textbooks and transportation.
Employment and Housing Assistance:
Finding stable employment and housing becomes crucial. Job Placement Services: Connect them with job placement services and career counseling to facilitate their entry into the job market. Offer job fairs and vocational training programs to enhance their employability. Housing Solutions: Provide information on housing options, including affordable housing, shared housing arrangements, and guidance on navigating the rental market.



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