A few months back, we met with Baptiste Clipffel, a specialised social worker in Geneva. We wanted to learn more about his role and involvement at l'Étoile, a housing center for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers, where some of our participants live. We talked about his experience as a social worker there, and his collaborations with external organisations.

Initiation at l'Étoile, Baptiste's workplace, and the living quarters of 155 young people.

Hi Baptiste! Could you start by introducing yourself, and how you started working at l'Étoile?

My name is Baptiste, I'm a specialised social worker. I studied for 3 years in Belgium, at the University of Applied Sciences in Social Work. I then worked with unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in France and Belgium. I also did several internships with this group, and it really is the one I most connect with. I now find myself in Geneva, working with unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. I really thrive here at the CHC l'Étoile.

Are the dynamics similar between the different centers you worked with?

The working dynamics differ a bit between France, Belgium, and here in Switzerland. I really like how it works here, I come into a dynamic where ressources to support the kids are available. It is never as good as what we want for the kids! But the ressources are there, we have support from the direction - it's really cool.

Are there only minors at l'Étoile?

There is both minors and adults, but we as social workers only take care of the minors. When the young people turn 18, they are taken care of by social workers of "l'hospice générale". So we're only in charge of minors, we're 28 educators in total and we each are in charge of about 4 kids.

How does the center of l'Étoile works?

There is no differenciations between the administrative work, and that of an educator. When we welcome a new person, we have a lot of administrative paperwork to do. It's important to know that when a new person arrives in Switzerland, they are firstly put in a 'sorting center', and then they are sent in a specific canton, before being attributed to a center. When a minor is sent to Geneva, they really often come to l'Étoile.

So there is a lot of paperwork at first, a lot of procedures to receive their residence permit, sign them up at school, organise their meeting with their legal representant... Each situation is different, for example we sometimes have to get in touch with a lawyer for an appeal procedure. The kids often obtain a temporary residence for 5 years. Every year they have to prove their good inclusion, that they're learning french, that they go to school or follow a formation. Or depending on their parcour and what they went through, they can directly have a B permit which allows them to have a refugee status, and thus more financial advantages,...

How is the center organised?

Every one has a room, depending on the available space and the person's mental health - we evaluate if it's better for them to have a single or a double room. We try to make sure that each have their own private room, yet it's not always feasible. We're a team of 20 educators, we're present on a daily basis - mornings and/or afternoons. We have a social secretary who's in charge of making appointments for schools, doctors, city tours,... We have night workers, people specifically in charge of making the decisions who by the way are really supportive and listen to our demands and suggestions.

And how do you feel about your working conditions?

I can answer with the comparision to my experience in France and Belgium. Here in Switzerland, I feel really supported by the direction. They take the time to talk with each collaborators to see how they feel. When we experience traumatic events, we systematically have therapy and follow-ups. The times are really respectful, for example we never work at night. We have times dedicated to the administrative part of the work. We're really listened to and respected, it's cool!

Do you often have associations coming? How is it organised with these external organisations? And do the kids feel about it?

Each collaboration is brought up by an educator. We have the chance to be a big team with a lot of different interests, so it creates really diversed partnerships. This diversity is really important for the young people. I am personally really attached to this, and I am currently working on 3 different collaborations. 

There is this partnership with Rookie Slash, which I find amazing! I also skate, so seeing the kids on a board makes me super happy. I'm also working on a partnership with an association doing graphitti, to bring an artistic aspect. Slimka also came to meet the kids interested in music. Some educators managed to get in touch with Dub Inc and they got some tickets with a backstage access for their concert in Geneva. Overall I'd say that there are a lot of projects with different dynamics !

Could you tell us more about your experience with Rookie Slash?

I really like it! It was not so easy to take it over from Sabrina, I needed a bit of time to understand who I should communicate with and all of that. On a more organisational side, it was not so easy neither. For example, we thought it made a lot of sense to have you and some obstacles come dirrectly at l'Étoile. Sometimes it's easier to put things right in front of the kids, than making them go somewhere. But we had to argue with the security because of norms. It ended up working out, and you came over twice! As a result of which many young people joined the weekly skate sessinons afterwards, without mentioning a specific wish to start skating before. The kids who take the skate classes always show me photos - they're really proud to be on Rookie Slash's instagram. We feel their enthusiasm for the activities, and it also brings some life to the center!

Rookie Slash's winter camp! Educators from l'Étoile came to help us throughout the week (Baptiste on the right with the green hoodie and pink beanie - thank you!)

We're going to switch perspectives, do the young people sometimes come to you with specific requests or share their opinions on things that they dislike?

We have a lot of requests, but it really depends on the person. The most common issues are related to communication, most of the kids do not yet speak French nor English. A solution to that is asking a translator, but it is hard to directly find someone available. So that leads to never-ending procedures. When a kid has a health issue and they talk about it, it can take up to 2 weeks to coordinate with schools and translator - so that also delays their needed appointment.

When can a resident leave the centre?

Typically, when the person arrives we are in charge of them until their 18th birthday + 3 months. Then they switch to a building for people over 18, where other educators will relocate them based on their situation. That goes from a centre for adults, to having their own flats, or going to student housing. They are always followed by a social worker. Depending on what's available, we try to relocate them to the newly build centres of the FOJ - where they will also be taken care of by a social worker, but on a more personalized basis.

Are there a lot of new centres that are prone to open?

We hope, for now we are still waiting for answers. L'Étoile is bound to close at some point. It has already been delayed because of Covid-19, that is also why new centres recently open. But the fact that we're currently welcoming more and more kids, and that there is not enough places elsewhere questions the closing of l'Étoile. It's a lot of questions, without many answers. According to the latest news, we will close in June 2023, but we don't really believe it. There can not relocate the 86 minors who actually live here, plus the 3 to 4 kids arriving every week.

Are there the same number of people leaving and arriving?

Right now, we have more arrivals. But it always depends on the current migratory waves. Departures are also involve longer procedures than an arrival that is more spontaneous.

That does not cause problems in regards to housing and places at the centre?

For now, we have enough space as we managed to relocate 32 people in the new centres. But it fills up quickly, we have to put more and more people in shared rooms - which is not always ideal. So it's not always easy in regards to housing and free spaces.

This interview was conducted in November 2022. Since then, l'Étoile as been filling up and arrived to its saturation point : 155 residents. The closing date was again delayed, leaving residents and workers in uncertainty.

The Rookie Slash's team wants to commemorate Alireza, a 19 years-old resident of l'Étoile who committed suicide on the 30th of November 2022 following the announcement of his forced return to Greece. A protest will be held on the 29th of March in his memory. Alireza we do not forget you!

Here's the link for more information: https://renverse.co/infos-locales/article/manifestation-le-1er-et-le-29-mars-alireza-on-ne-t-oublie-pas-3903

Interview by Oscar Krakover and Solenne Roger