The roots of ISS Switzerland are to be found in the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) found to look into the fate of migrant women and children at a time when many Europeans were leaving their countries in search of a brighter future overseas.
The founders of our network realised that many individual problems arose because the laws and administrative procedures that controlled migration did not take in account of the effects on family life or on the individual.
During the years between the wars a central association was created in Geneva entitled «The International Service for the Aid to Migrants » (or International Migration Service IMS), today’s General Secretariat of ISS.
With the economic crisis of 1929 and the social consequences, more and more cases concerning Switzerland were addressed to the central association. A Swiss Secretariat was opend to deal with them. Due to unemployment or financial hardship many families returned to Switzerland during the Great Depression.
With demands increasing, a Swiss Committee was formed to establish what became known as « Aid to Migrants – Swiss Section of the International Service for the Aid of Migrants ».
During the war and in the aftermath the Swiss Section supported a large number of refugee children by helping them to trace their relatives abroad or to find alternative placements.
ISS established a collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that lasted more than 40 years for the purpose of supporting refugees in the French and Italian speaking parts of Switzerland.
Switzerland, and Geneva in particular, became a magnet for those who were fleeing their country of origin and were seeking help and protection. With its know-how ISS Switzerland was able to resolve various transnational situation and, where appropriate, to prepare their welcome in Switzerland or to enable their return to another country.
The opening of an office in Zurich and collaboration with partners in Bellinzona and St. Gallen made it possible to expand the work nationwide.
ISS Switzerland followed the development of the International Rights of the Individual and worked alongside the authorities to implement those aspects of the Hague Convention ratified by our country, notably those in 1980 concerning child abduction, in 1993 on international adoption and in 1996 on the international protection of children.
Since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights in 1989, ISS Switzerland has worked to raise awareness to ensure the rights of migrant children are better taken into account.
The Official Foundation for Youth (Fondation Officielle de la Jeunesse - FOJ) mandated ISS Switzerland to assist each unaccompanied minor, who lodges an asylum request in Geneva.
ISS Switzerland began to collaborate with local partners in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and West Africa with the aim of finding solutions for children who cannot be raised by their own family.
In response to the rapid increase in asylum requests across Europe in 2015, ISS Switzerland increased its activities to support unaccompanied minors in exercising their rights and finding sustainable individual solutions. This includes the integration in Switzerland, the integration in a third country or the reintegration in the country of origin. Through various advocacy activities and projects, ISS Switzerland raises awareness among authorities, professionals and politicians about the need for the protection of unaccompanied minors.
In this period, ISS Switzerland also specialized in the support and protection of migrants returning to their country of origin or to a country where they have a legal status and can apply for asylum.
During the global pandemic, ISS Switzerland continues its activities and remains at the disposal of children, families and migrants in need of support.