Refugee children study at a school in Switzerland

Swiss Christians and Jews lament “linguistic and cultural boundaries” facing refugees

Message for Sunday and Shabbat of the Refugees, 15th-16th June 2019

“One word 
leads to another: 
this is the great gift” 

Elazar Benyoëtz 
(Israeli poet and aphorist)

“Let us therefore descend and confuse their language, so that they no longer understand each other’s language”

(Noach / Genesis 11.7)

The tower of Babel is not only a metaphorical explanation for linguistic plurality among human beings, but it also highlights the problem of belonging and marginalization caused by language. Only the members of a family or tribe were included among them. They have rediscovered themselves as a community that stood out from all the other communities that spoke a different language. In the world after Babel something completely unknown was born until then: the problem of translation. If people from different communities wanted to come into contact with each other in a peaceful way, they had to learn foreign languages ​​to communicate and understand each other.

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Globalization has brought humanity back to the time of Babel. True, the world is connected by technology, but the problems of understanding have remained. Refugees suffer more than anyone else from linguistic and cultural boundaries. They were forced to leave their linguistic and cultural family space to seek refuge in countries with different cultures and languages. The words of those who do not understand the national language and do not know how to express it remain weightless, are not listened to and understood. Those who cannot communicate remain speechless. And who is speechless, is excluded from the community, has no say in the matter.

Interest, attention, participation and belonging cannot exist if there is no communication. The language creates community and only those who understand and speak the language of the community can belong to it. The State and politics therefore have the responsibility to offer the refugees a high quality teaching in the language of the new center of their life. It is not enough to have rudimentary language skills, like for a tourist holiday. Integration on the one hand requires the willingness to integrate, on the other the presence of resources to be able to integrate. Whoever requires integration must also give people who want to integrate the possibility of doing so. A functioning cohabitation depends essentially on mutual listening and making one’s voice heard. In this regard, intensive and qualified linguistic support for refugees must be established.

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On Sunday and the Sabbath of refugees, the Swiss Federation of Jewish communities and the three national churches invite the Confederation, cantons and municipalities to create and maintain institutional and organizational resources for sustainable linguistic support also for refugees.

Gottfried Wilhelm Locher 
President of the Federation Council of Evangelical Churches of Switzerland

Bishop Monsignor Dr. Harald Rein 
Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland

Bishop Monsignor Dr. Felix Gmür 
President Conference of Swiss Bishops

Dr. Herbert Winter 
President of the Swiss Federation of 
Jewish Communities

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