Iryna (33) was brutally woken up when the first Russian bombs fell near her home. She comes from the north of Kiev – not far from the small town of Bucha. She endured the shelling for three weeks, then she couldn’t take it anymore. “The constant roar of the bombs, the planes, being locked in and not being able to sleep – that got me down.”
Her mother stayed behind alone in the apartment they shared; The young woman fled to Switzerland via Poland at the end of March and spent a night in the federal asylum center in Zurich. The next day she looks for a place to stay on Facebook, friends advised her to do so. For a few weeks she stays with host families in the canton of Aargau. In both places she feels uncomfortable and unwelcome. She still can’t sleep. In the end, the municipality responsible gives her a room.
It is early May when SonntagsBlick visits her there for the first time. Iryna’s pale face is marked with weariness. When speaking, she avoids eye contact and often gets muddled. Your room is one of twelve on the first floor of a former inn. Residents share two bathrooms and a kitchen. The municipality pays CHF 575 a month for this. The room is simply furnished and run down: the walls are stained, it smells musty, the window is cracked.
There is a road next to the house, many trucks drive through it. The noise comes in almost unfiltered, footsteps and the sound of the shower can be heard from the hallway. Iryna taps her finger on the wall in the adjoining room – it is only made of thin plaster: “A man or a couple lives over there. They have sex almost every night. The sounds are animalistic.” The screams, she says, remind her of the violence in her home country, and the traffic noise reminds her of the roar of Russian bombers. She still suffers from lack of sleep, feels tense and stressed. In addition: Iryna suffers from the rare Basedow syndrome – an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland. It triggers heart palpitations, nervousness and high blood pressure. Stress aggravates the symptoms.
Without sleep, without help
‘I can’t stay here. I desperately need a place where I can rest and finally sleep.” In desperation, she turns to her supervisor at the community again. But she couldn’t find any other accommodation for her. She is not allowed to change her place of residence, which requires a special permit from the canton. So Iryna turns to the cantonal social services.
First of all, it says that the municipality is responsible. Then the Ukrainian is referred to the help hotline of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). Finally, she is recommended to look for a place in a clinic or – contrary to the official recommendation of the authorities – to find new accommodation on her own via Facebook.
Iryna is one of over 50,000 Ukrainian refugees in Switzerland. Your experiences in the canton of Aargau show that there are gaps in the asylum system. Responsibilities are unclear, the flow of information is often insufficient. An administrative chaos that the authorities themselves do not understand – and the refugees certainly do not.
“A huge challenge”
Phone call to Pia Maria Brugger Kalfidis. The head of the cantonal social service in Aargau says: “In two and a half months, more people seeking protection arrived than during the major refugee crisis from 2014 to 2016 per year. A huge challenge for everyone involved.” No level of the asylum system – from the federal government to the municipalities – had the provision services to take care of so many people, adds Michel Hassler, media spokesman for the authority. This included, among other things, available accommodation and resources for registering and caring for the refugees. However, the sheer number of refugees is not the only factor troubling the authorities.
The high participation of the civilian population is also new. Most of the Ukrainian mothers, children and elderly people were placed in host families and private accommodation. That was the decision made by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) at the beginning of the wave of refugees. The whole thing is organized by the Swiss Refugee Aid (SFH) – unless the refugees find a place to stay themselves via Facebook or other social media.
The authorities advise against this. In fact, most refugees find accommodation this way. Figures from the canton of Aargau from mid-May illustrate this: Of the 3,869 people assigned, 2,865 live in private accommodation, but only 685 were placed by the SFH. The rest managed privately or through third parties. Similarly in the canton of Berne: one third of the private placements – as of the beginning of May – were carried out by the SFH, two thirds were on private initiative. And the media office of the canton of Graubünden also confirms that most of the private accommodation was organized independently.
New system causes chaos
No one can say whether the refugees organize themselves because it is faster and less complicated than taking the official route. The fact is: the private initiative threw the previous processes of the asylum system overboard – i.e. registration by the SEM, allocation to the canton, subsequent placement by the cantonal social service. Social service manager Brugger Kalfidis explains: “Previous responsibilities were suddenly no longer valid and many new issues had to be clarified, both in terms of accommodation and legal matters, protection status S, access to the labor market, language support, social assistance benefits.” In addition, it was difficult to transmit information to the responsible authorities or persons. In the meantime, however, the situation has calmed down, according to Brugger Kalfidis, because many questions have been clarified and new processes have been defined.
It is also clear that the whole thing would not have been possible without the high level of participation from private individuals. “We are dependent on private accommodation, because more people are coming every day, and there are still no accommodation options,” said media spokesman Hassler, which is also shown by the case of Iryna. “That’s why the canton of Aargau and the municipalities are expanding living space.” Because it is uncertain how long people can stay with host families.
Ukrainian woman on her own
Overall, the social welfare system in Aargau is positive. “The feedback from our teams and communities is very positive. Many problems were also of an administrative nature – but this has been greatly improved in recent weeks,” says director Brugger Kalfidis. The host families are also a great help in coping with everyday life. The SEM agrees. “The emergency concepts of the federal government and the cantons have worked from the start. All the refugees could be taken in and cared for, everyone has a roof over their heads,” writes media spokesman Daniel Bach.
It’s now almost exactly two months since Iryna left her home in northern Kiev. Two months full of stress, anxiety and insomnia, also in Switzerland. The last session with her community leader was disappointing. “She couldn’t find a new place to stay, so she said I should just put ear plugs in at night.” The community does not want to comment on the Sunday view.
Iryna now takes her fate into her own hands. At least until next week she can stay with friends in the village. After that everything is open. In the meantime, she is even considering canceling the protection status S so that she is no longer bound to her registration in the Aargau municipality. But then she would also lose her health insurance – and with it her access to the necessary medical care for her illness.
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