Next to him sit Zemhret, who arrived all on his own from Eritrea just over a year ago, and Sonam, a 34-year-old Tibetan. All three have one thing in common – they have not been in Switzerland for long. They are here today to take part in a Corpus meeting with the aim of improving their understanding of how their adopted country works.
Founded in 2006, Corpus is a Fribourg-based organization that aims to run activities to develop and guide young people in Switzerland, and also train them in citizenship. Although it focuses on the issue of migration, it's not an "association for Africans". "Swiss youngsters can have problems just the same as people from abroad," explains Jean-Luc IIunga, the project coordinator. "The only difference is that Swiss children often have more resources and people they can turn to in the event of problems."
When they set foot on Swiss soil, these young immigrants are often completely disorientated. "Some of them get the impression they've arrived in a country that doesn't give them any rights at all," explains Sady Fuambi, another project coordinator. "It's important to make them aware of the rights that they have from the word go and of those that they can gain as they become more integrated."
Ecology, French and the right of asylum
Once these basic ideas have been assimilated, work can proceed and other issues can be addressed, including that of the environment. In February, a major litter-picking exercise was organized in lower Fribourg to tidy up the bottles and other rubbish lying on the bed of the river Sarine. This made the youngsters aware of how effective recycling can be, as did the "tip project". This consisted of explaining the importance of sorting rubbish to users of the Fribourg waste disposal centre.
"With Corpus, I've been able to learn things you don't learn at school or at home," says Enok. He's only been in Switzerland eight months, but he already seems very comfortable speaking French. The intensive lessons he is taking have been very useful, as has the opportunity to talk to other French speakers. But he feels his French is still an obstacle. "I like meeting lots of people, and you really need to speak French well in order to do that." He's currently studying at a vocational college, and thinks he'd like to work in information technology later on.
Language was the main difficulty for Zemhret too. "When I landed at Geneva airport I didn't understand a thing, everything was so new and different," he explains. He comes along to Corpus meetings because Enok told him about them. The two youngsters live in the same part of town and met in the library. Sonam, who is teaching Tibetan and English, is now looking for a job as a nursing auxiliary. He's relying on the Corpus workers to help him with his application. "We're here to show them what to do, but not to do the work for them," explains one of the staff. Corpus supports the young people in many different ways, including helping them appeal for the right of asylum and providing advice on legal matters. The organizers' aim is clear: "We want young people who are going to be useful to society, and are integrated into the world in which they live."