In Swiss Tri-Border Region, Citizens Extend Helping Hand To Homeless Asylum Seekers

Turned away from state centers in and around Switzerland’s Basel, some migrant asylum seekers have had no choice but to sleep on the streets. A handful of concerned citizens, however, have organized through e-mail and Facebook to offer their homes as emer

A snow storm in Basel, Switzerland (pppspics)
A snow storm in Basel, Switzerland (pppspics)
Matthias Chapman

BASEL -- In recent weeks, asylum seekers in and around the Swiss tri-border city of Basel have been turned away at supposedly full-to-beyond-capacity state centers before they even had a chance to fill out the forms necessary to request asylum. "As these people are not yet registered as asylum seekers, we don't know who they are," Michael Glauser, spokesman for the Swiss Federal Office for Migration (BFM) told the SDA press agency.

According to the BFM's most recent information, some 40 asylum seekers were turned away in Basel. There were a handful of individual cases in the nearby French-speaking canton of Vaud as well, and in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, people were being sent on to other centers. Women and children were always taken in, said Glauser: the centers have emergency reserve capacity in case.

Solidarité sans Frontières, a Swiss organization that works with migrants and asylum seekers, said it was "shocked" by the intolerable conditions in Basel. The group refutes claims that the situation is being caused by a "flood of North African asylum seekers." The problems instead reflect systematic structural attempts to reduce services, according to Solidarité sans Frontières.

A Swiss organization that helps refugees, Schweizerische Flüchtlingshilfe (SFH), said on Wednesday that it was "extremely concerned." The group accuses Swiss authorities of violating asylum laws.

Concerned citizens

Last Sunday afternoon, Almut Rembges happened to pass the federal asylum seekers' center in Basel, where she noticed what looked like a family sitting on the ground about 200 meters from the facility. Winter had just kicked in. Weather conditions, in other words, were such that it was unlikely the family was just agreeably passing the afternoon outdoors.

"Then some other asylum seekers came up to me and asked for help," says the artist and activist. They told her the family had been turned away for lack of room at the center. Rembges went to talk to the security personnel at the door, who finally agreed to let the family in.

Rembges began to worry that what she had witnessed personally could turn into a full-blown emergency situation, with people being forced to sleep outdoors in freezing weather. That this could be happening in Switzerland is "unacceptable," she says. Rembges began patrolling the area around the center, and encouraged friends and acquaintances to do the same. "I set up a Doodle, and 20 people signed up." They take turns monitoring the entrance to the center.

But what if there really was no room at the center? That's what happened last Monday when a small group from Eritrea – three women, two children and a young man – were turned away. "I sent word out by e-mail and on Facebook and immediately people got back offering a total of 25 beds," says Rembges.

One of the people who responded was Anni Lanz, a well known migrant rights activist. "The asylum seekers from Eritrea spent the night here. We have a large guest bedroom," she says.

Before opening her home to the migrants, Lanz spoke with the head of the Basel center and asked him to accept the Eritreans. He refused, saying "they didn't have a single mattress left." That's when Lanz organized transportation for the group and offered her own place as emergency quarters.

Spagetti and a smile

For Lanz this wasn't an unusual situation. The activist, now in her 60s, is in the habit of opening her home to people who need help. She was also happy to offer her visitors a hot meal. "I made Spaghetti Napoli for the Eritreans," she says.

Does it make her feel disappointed or angry knowing she is providing services that should be offered by the state? "Naturally, I think the state should be friendlier to foreigners," she replies. "But making people welcome shouldn't just be up to the state. It should be part of our culture."

As for the cost, she says she has ample enough retirement benefits to be able to share with others. She says too that she's never had problems with anyone she reached out to. Lanz insists, furthermore, that her generosity is normal. "There are a lot of people who would act the same way I do," she says.

What does make Lanz angry is that many of those asylum seekers refused at the centers are sent to Italy, where the situation is generally far worse than it is in Switzerland. "There, they get nothing: no shelter, no food."

The good news is that the situation in Basel has improved. A bomb shelter in nearby Pratteln was opened as an emergency option and since then, Rembges says, she hasn't found anybody turned out on the street. But that doesn't mean she's ready to stop patrolling the streets. "Solutions," like the bomb shelter in Pratteln, can prove illusory. Rembges found out later, for example, that her efforts on behalf of that first family she assisted were only partially sucessful. The men ended up being turned away despite her intervention.

Read the original story in German

Photo - pppspics

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport


Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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