Swiss Antenna: At the Africanum, a big family of refugees and volunteers

The Africanum in Fribourg is firstly the mother-house of the Swiss White Fathers who have worked for more than 100 years in Africa. Today, most of them are elderly but, as well as  serving parishes, they have opened the house to refugees who come on Tuesday mornings for various activities and on Wednesdays to enjoy an excellent meal of food past its sell-by date given by the department store, Manor. There is so much of it that there is enough left for the week for several families who take it home! The town of Fribourg and charities have found a roof for everyone. On September 16th, there were about 50 of them: Eritreans, Syrians, Somalis, Afghanis, several with wives and children.  They are being helped by a team of volunteers who give French lessons, look after the children and offer art activities and help filling in forms.


Three psychology students come and chat with them every Wednesday; two cooks perform miracles with the food donated the day before; religious serve the meals, a nurse cares for ailments great and small and a former missionary talks with them in Arabic… Truly, this is a warm and welcoming family; smiles shine out everywhere, such a contrast with the unwelcoming faces in Hungary! This is all competently run by Fr. Claude Maillard who brings into play his 20 years of experience living in Africa. He even accompanies the refugees when they have to face stern questioning at the police station. And yet most of these young people have a good education, even a career and often speak English. An Afghani journalist from Kabul, Mustafazada, makes a great effort to speak to me in English. The travels that brought him to Switzerland would be worthy of a book: Iran where he settles his father after the death of his mother, then Turkey, the crossing by boat, Greece and the trek here, hunger. Why not become a journalist? He would have much to teach us.


Not only is each one of them movingly grateful for being welcomed with dignity; they also want to do everything to become integrated here even if, in the depths of their hearts, they also wish to return home one day. “Even in their poverty, they save their little money to send $100 a month to their families back home," one of the Fathers said. "Our colleagues tell us the same thing in Germany, Italy and France. This is real development aid for the devastated country.” Their children were all able to make the most of a ‘holiday pass’ and were amazed at what they found at a natural history museum; a large wall hanging in the dining room designed by several refugees depicted what they experienced at home. A small masterpiece. "What we must and can do, we Swiss, is to help them regain their confidence and recognize their dignity and competence, which is why we call our association “Anchor Point," adds a volunteer. Even the municipal authorities came to say hello. The Africanum, a small corner of paradise where one can dream of peace.


Christine von Garnier, sociologist, 20 September 2015

Go back