A Human Library at the University Library in Bern

A Human Library at the University Library in Bern

Human library


For the latest edition of our Human Library event, this time in Bern, we asked five human books to share their personal stories of migration with the local audience. About 40 participants attended the event and interacted with the human books in a unique way, getting to know how each of them has dealt personally with migration.     

The Human Library in Bern was the last of a series of events organized for the 70th anniversary of the CAUX-Initiatives of Change (CAUX-IofC) Foundation. It took place in the University of Bern Library.

Each Human Book (storyteller) was invited to sit in a separate room of the library and to tell their story for 10 minutes, followed by a Q&A segment for the same length of time. Participants could repeat this process once in order to listen to up to 2 books.

Stories covered a wide range of personal experiences:

Ahmed Al’Dbei, a civil engineer and refugee from Yemen, found refuge in Saudi Arabia in 2014. He shared his story of coming to Switzerland and speaking about human rights violations in Yemen at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. In doing so, his emergency visa for Saudi Arabia was revoked and he could not return home to his family. Now under a special status while awaiting review of his case for more than a year now, Ahmed is not allowed to work or volunteer in Switzerland. This can be very frustrating as he would like to be able to help others and lead a regular life.

Bawélé Tchalim, a project coordinator at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Bern from Togo, shared several stories from his career and also spoke of the difficulty of meeting people in Switzerland because of linguistic and cultural barriers.

Hassan Hawar, a refugee and computer science student from Syria,  spoke of his journey to Switzerland, by boat and by car from Turkey. German is his new language, which he speaks quite well after only a year of living in Bern. He now lives in Switzerland with his sister, while his parents and his brother still live in Damascus.

Vithyaah Subramaniam, a Swiss of Tamil origin who spoke about her will to help new migrants in Switzerland as her duty, being a second generation migrant herself.

Bernadette de Dardel, who was in charge of doing interviews and approving or refusing asylum requests at the Swiss Secretariat for Migration during 30 years, expressed the difficulty of determining the truth in each asylum seeker’s story as well as the dilemmas of having to refuse certain asylum claims.

The event ended with a closing aperitif where participants were invited to share their thoughts and impressions about the stories with each other.

Sharing and exchanging personal experiences is a different way to deal with migration from a  more human-focused approach and the Human Library proved once again to be a small but a very important step to build trust between migrants and local communities, groups which not often have the opportunity to talk to each other. 


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