In Switzerland, we work with refugee children in asylum centres and support professionals working in that field with information, training and through a newly created section. Nina Hössli, Head of projects in Switzerland, tells us in an interview how we reach children despite Covid-19 and what role a quarantine box plays in this.

Nina, on the Save the Children Switzerland website, you will now find the “Asylum and Migration” section prominently displayed. What is the goal of this section?

Nina Hössli: Our goal in the Swiss projects is to improve the living situation of refugee children by 2022. We work to ensure that their accommodation is child-friendly, that they are cared for in a child-friendly way, but also that they are protected from violence. To achieve this, we work a lot with professionals. They work either directly in the asylum centres, or for political authorities or cantonal agencies. All of these people are either responsible for or give mandates about the care of refugee children. With this newly created section (only available in German), we would like to reach this target group better. We achieve this by making our services and specialist information available to them in a simple and quickly accessible way. For example, this could be simple work aids or checklists that can be taken to hand and worked with.

By 2022, we want to improve the living situation of refugee children, ensure that their accommodation is child-friendly, but also that they are protected from violence.

Nina Hössli Head of projects in Switzerland

So is this section only aimed at professionals?

Yes and no. First and foremost, it is true that the information is primarily aimed at the authorities, professional organisations and asylum centre staff. However, there are also elements that are aimed directly at refugee parents and thus also at children and young people – and in over 30 languages! In this way, centre staff can also make this information directly accessible to families in asylum centres: simply, online and in their mother tongue.

Do you also collaborate with other NGOs on this specific section?

There is certainly a “with each other”, yes. That also makes sense in this area. We don’t only want to draw attention to our services, but also to the work of others in important areas such as mental health. For example, we have a calendar of events in which we draw attention to events, also from other organisations, on the topic of asylum and migration. This is an important service for professionals.

What’s the “next big thing” from your team?

We are currently in the middle of the second Covid-19 wave in Switzerland. In this situation, we have developed a new product: the so-called quarantine box. Unfortunately, it is the case that – as is the case everywhere – families have to be quarantined in many asylum centres. In the centres, families are then usually only in one bedroom, which is not designed for families with children to be in there for up to 10 days – without being allowed to leave the room. The idea of the quarantine box is that we provide the asylum centres with a range of different toys, craft materials and instructions (based on our learn and play kitfrom the spring). This way, families with children receive age-appropriate games and activity instructions in their rooms and the children still have something to do during this time.

The quarantine box for children and families in quarantine.

Is this appreciated by the operating organisations?

Yes, very much. For example, in the first Covid-19 wave we had an incredible amount of feedback and interest from the operating organisations. We noticed there that the pressure on staff, but also families and children in the centres was enormous. There were also very few resources to support children and families at this stage. With the closure of schools, children had no structures or support activities, even within the centres. At that time, we sent seven different editions of learn and play kit to about 19 cantons across Switzerland. And even now, with the quarantine box, we already have around 30 asylum centres that have ordered in the first few days.

19 cantons

used our learning and play sets during the spring lockdown, providing children with relaxation and variety.

And children who are not in quarantine are not allowed to use the quarantine box?

Yes, of course. First of all, we hope that as few families as possible are in quarantine. And if centres have toys and craft materials left over, it is of course also entirely in our interest if children who are not affected also have access to them. Even without Covid-19, there is no oversupply of care time and resources in the centres. Our learn and play kit from the spring are still in use – also because there are few resources and the sets have activities that are very easy to do. By the way, these are also filed free of charge and accessible to all.

How much has Covid-19 affected your work?

At the moment it varies a lot depending on the situation and the place. In spring, we lost access to centres almost completely and could no longer do our coachings and trainings. When the centres reopened, we were able to continue our training and coaching for staff. In some centres we can currently offer our normal services, but in others we can only offer Covid-19 interventions such as the quarantine box. For us, it is important that even in such circumstances children have a distraction, are simply allowed to “be a child” and are supported.