“AGORA takes care of people who don’t care.” – Swiss Catholic portal

A few days before the vote to enlarge Frontex and in the midst of the refugee crisis in Ukraine, what about the reception of people in distress? The report comes from the heart of AGORA, the Geneva ecumenical chaplaincy, which has been listening and engaging with asylum seekers and refugees since 1988.

Building A. In the heart of the Tattes collective accommodation center, between Vernier-Village and the industrial zone. Welcome to AGORA, in a useless apartment, where you have to push the door to have coffee, take a course or get answers to the administrative difficulties of the asylum farm.

The other rooms serve as offices for a fellow association, Elisa-Asile. Some serve as offices for training or interviews, confidentiality is required. On the side of the living room: a large table, a corner sofa, some computers, bookcases and lots of leaflets and brochures with information.

Behind the screens, two trainees compose an applicant’s CV. Sitting on the couch, a young Eritrean adult holding a few plates of paper and tightly his resume. Today, Michaël came to check on his job search with the Catholic chaplain, Virginie Hours. This father of four is in a bad situation that the chaplain, a lawyer by business, is well aware of: the spiral of jobless internships as a result.

Listening to the tarmac

An ecumenical ministry of the Christian Catholic, Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, AGORA has been listening to asylum seekers and refugees since 1988. Initially, there was a mobile home parked near Geneva airport. Today, the group of chaplains and volunteers share their daily lives between accommodation houses, visits to private homes, administrative detention facilities and the airport transit area.

It’s in the construction of “not accepted”, at the end of the track, that Virginie Hours lives up to the most beautiful sharing of asylum seekers. “It’s a different state of mind, they come and they know they have a big part in their future in the coming days,” he explains. Amidst the tension of the trip, their experience and the long journey that began with their arrival, AGORA’s presence brought them a little bit of humanity and dignity. “The apostolate of listening, I live it in a particularly strong way at the airport”, assured the Catholic chaplain.

“The apostolate of listening, I experienced it in a particularly strong way at the airport.”

Virginia HoursCatholic chaplain of AGORA

unconditional love

In the AGORA brochure, a simple sentence summarizes the chaplaincy’s dual mission: “to help applicants mobilize their own resources of life and faith”. Without judgment. There is no difference. Without categorization. If the war in Ukraine clearly affected the Tattes collective accommodation center, the same is not true for the Geneva ecumenical chaplaincy. “AGORA takes care of people who don’t care,” Virginie Hours simplifies. Understand: at all times and especially in populations that are rejected or affected by a decision not to enter into the matter. There is no arranging the doors at AGORA: the motto is to accept everyone with “unconditional love”.

AGORA is part of the Geneva Coordination which defends the right to asylum.

Learning French: a key step

Like one large family, AGORA is enriched with the experiences and testimonies of asylum seekers and refugees received. The French courses offered by ecumenical chaplaincy create a lasting bond. Of Ukrainian nationality, from Azerbaijan and Armenian, Kamalia came to Les Tattes with her family in 2018. The AGORA apartment is now her second residence and learning French is a symbol of unity for him and financial freedom.

In Ukraine, he studied education and economics unknown here, French obligatory. From the height of his forty-five years and despite this arduous journey, he said he is now confident of his future. He also reiterated several times his felt indebtedness to AGORA and Switzerland. With a little tear of emotion: maybe one day he can help other people too.

To more accurately describe her emotions, Kamalia used an online translator.

For his part, Omar, a 53-year-old Syrian refugee, befriended Gilbert, a volunteer teacher at AGORA. Arriving in 2018 at the Tattes collective accommodation center with his wife and three children, only this year did they get their own accommodation. Among the difficulties encountered, a disparity in residence permits of members of the same household and the difficulty of finding a structure that offers ongoing French lessons for accelerated integration. All this, Omar expressed with ease in French, under the kind gaze of his teacher. “There’s a great deal of respect among you”, Virginie Hours slowly wastes, in a moment of emotion.

Volunteering, the cornerstone

In the area of ​​Tattes, no two days are alike. If the health crisis has an impact on the influx of applicants, the doors are still open during dedicated hours. Three employees, about twenty volunteers, several interns and a civilian ran AGORA, from the Tattes ’apartment to the airport detention center.

“I want to be involved in something more… committed! On the first day, I gave him the key! ”

Isabelle, volunteer

Most of the volunteers are made up of founding members, AGORA now seeks to welcome new active forces following the spirit of this chaplaincy, whose first mission is to welcome. “I want to be involved in something more… committed! On the first day, I gave him the key! ” exclaimed Isabelle, a volunteer who oversees the reception of children no longer in school.

Downstairs, concentration is required during computer class.

Past 4:30 p.m. Two young men taking computer class downstairs are now sitting in the lounge area, cups and saucers in the palms of their hands. They drank tea and nibble cookies and chocolate with hazelnuts while quietly chatting in Tigrinya (Eritrea’s official language and spoken on the part of Ethiopia, editor’s note). Outside, the rain cooled everything. Here, hospitality warms them. (cath.ch/jds)

AGORA in short
The Geneva Ecumenical Chaplaincy for Asylum Seekers and Refugees was created in 1988 by three official Churches in the canton of Geneva. At its location in Tattes, it is on duty 5 days a week from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. For children from 4 to 8 years of age, a welcome is offered on Wednesday morning. Computer and French courses complete Tattes ’offer. AGORA will also be at the Madeleine temple on Tuesday afternoon, to continue its mission to raise awareness on the issue of immigration. JDS

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