Zurich Meeting June 2021: Report of the online conference


Corine Mauch, Mayor of Zurich

Adamo Antoniadis

Zurich Meeting June 2021: Report of the online conference

On 10-11 June 2021, the City of Zurich hosted an international C-MISE city dialogue on irregular migrants. The online meeting included representatives from 14 cities, several presentations, two panels and a total of 10 speakers. The meeting was organised in partnership by COMPAS and the City of Zurich with the aim of improving mutual city learning among European cities in this challenging area of city governance.

An estimated 10.000 migrants with irregular status live in Zurich. Many of them are from Latin America, and they work and live under very poor conditions. In recent years the municipality has undertaken many efforts to improve the living conditions of irregular migrants. Steered by those efforts and Zurich's experiences with the political and administrative process, the meeting focused on City Cards and on the improvement of access to municipal services.

The idea of introducing a city card based on the New York model was first brought up by civil society and then by the local parliament. Even if the legal situation in Switzerland cannot be compared with the United States, the City of Zurich is willing to go down this path and preparations for the introduction of a Zurich City Card have started.

It will take a while before the City Card can eventually be introduced and the concrete benefits for Sans Papiers remain to be seen. This makes the other measures that Zurich is implementing to improve access to municipal services all the more important. In her presentation, Mayor Corine Mauch gave an overview of Zurich's efforts in recent years. In 2017, the City Council set up a working group within the administration in order to identify problematic areas and possible paths of action. As a first result, the City Council presented a paper called «The Position of the City of Zurich on the Subject of Sans Papiers» in September 2018. With this document, the City acknowledges migrants with irregular status as being part of the population, with the corresponding rights and obligations. Zurich also assumes responsibility for the Sans Papiers living in the city. The position paper states: «The City Council is committed to ensuring that Sans Papiers have access to municipal services and facilities. Access for Sans Papiers is regularly checked and facilitated, where necessary and possible.»

Consequently, a survey was launched in all departments and offices of the city administration asking the following questions: What services do you provide? When you need to verify the identity of a person – do you ask for a name? Do you ask for a residential address? Do you ask for a residence permit? If yes: Is this controlled? If yes: What is the legal basis? Is there an alternative? The survey and the evaluation were quite complex, but by asking these questions awareness was raised in the different departments as to where Sans Papiers might be excluded from their services.

Corine Mauch then provided some examples where the city has the authority to provide better access. Two pilot projects in the areas of health and social welfare made the greatest impression on the participants at the conference. First, following a motion of the city parliament, a pilot project was launched, to put health services for persons without health insurance on a sound financial footing. In Mai 2021 another pilot project called «Basic Economic Assistance» was presented. During at least 18 months, the City will invest two million Swiss francs to fight poverty in Zurich. Four NGOs have committed themselves to support people who have no access to social welfare (which is subject to cantonal law). This applies to foreigners with or without residence permits who live in Zurich. With the «Basic Economic Assistance» pilot, whose approach is unprecedented and innovative, and is on the edge of what is legally possible, Zurich has attracted great attention. It shows how important it is to look for creative solutions even if at first glance there see seems to be not much room for manoeuver.

You can access the full report here.