Sans-Papiers in Switzerland – Fear is its constant companion – culture

You shouldn’t be in Switzerland – but your labor is in demand here. An estimated 90,000 people live in Switzerland without a valid residence permit.

Sans-papiers often work in private households, in gastronomy, in construction, in agriculture. Most come from third countries and have little chance of legalization.

Two reports from everyday life in Switzerland by people without valid papers.

Svetlana, cleaning lady

“When a job comes up, I do everything,” says Svetlana. She came to Switzerland with her family ten years ago. She doesn’t want to give her country of origin or her real name.

At first it was difficult for Svetlana to find work as a cleaning lady. She could not speak German and was dependent on intermediaries who took half of her wages for it.

Like many sans-papiers, Svetlana is overqualified for her job. She studied a foreign language in her home country – in the hope of being able to teach.


“It was never enough, even though I was working all the time,” says Svetlana, who now works as a cleaning lady. (Symbol image)

Keystone/Gaetan Bally

But she couldn’t find a job there, and she couldn’t keep her family afloat: “I did a lot of jobs: looking after children, massage, pedicure, saleswoman – but it was never enough, even though I worked all the time.” When a friend told her about Switzerland, Svetlana took the risk of staying illegally.

She now cleans in several households and is happy to be referred, even if her employers make themselves liable to prosecution. On average, she earns 25 francs an hour.

Svetlana belongs to the minority of the Sans-Papiers who has a health insurance and pays into the AHV – thanks to the help of a contact point. Your data may not be reported to the migration office.

Nevertheless, fear is her constant companion: Svetlana’s everyday life is a tightrope walk between trust and caution. She has to move with her family again and again because she is afraid of being discovered. Finding an affordable apartment is almost impossible, she says.

There is also the worry that the two children will betray each other at school or that they will run into a police check on the way to work.

Svetlana spends as little time as possible outside: “I can’t just go for a walk or sit outside and laugh out loud. I look like a free person, but I don’t feel that way. “

Svetlana’s greatest hope is that one day she will get a residence permit: “We are at home here and would like to stay. The children have already planned their future. “

Krasimir Penev, Electrician

Krasimir Penev wanted to leave Bulgaria. The local mafia burned down his little café in the 1990s, he says. He didn’t want to pay protection money. He did not get any support from the police.

Penev and his wife applied for asylum in Switzerland, which was rejected. They continued to work in hiding – she as a cleaning lady for private individuals, he on a remote farm in Baselland. “I had to agree to everything, it was terrible. For years I worked for five francs an hour. “

Krasimir Penev doesn’t like to think back to those times. Because of the hard physical work, he got a hernia. But since he had no health insurance, he did not dare to see a doctor.

His employers did not understand his problems, he says: “Once I had to help the farmer pour the concrete and I was in such pain that I cried. His wife scolded me for being lazy. That really hurt me. “

When he heard about the Sans Papiers movement on the radio, Krasimir Penev sought contact and got involved with the Basel church occupation, Link opens in a new window. The risk he took was worth it: he was one of the first to apply for a hardship case in 2001 and to receive a residence permit.

“It’s amazing what a little piece of paper means. Since I’ve had it, I’ve been able to eat well, go to the doctor and feel like a normal person. “

Today Krasimir Penev lives with his wife in the Jura and has been working as an electrician in his trained profession for many years. What he particularly appreciates after life in secret is the freedom of movement: “It’s a great job. I get around all of Switzerland. “

However, his wife, who is a trained chemist, could not find the connection. She still works as a cleaning lady today.

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