Connecting people

When Simon Bachmann first started his job as a floorwalker, he did not know what to expect. But when we visited him at the Federal Asylum Centre (FAC) in Bern’s former Ziegler hospital, it was obvious that he has now settled in well and even come to identify with this newly created role he has taken on.

Simon Bachmann

Social worker, floorwalker, conflict prevention officer – there are many different ways to describe this new position created by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). The job also requires an impressive combination of skills: flexibility, language skills, the ability to be assertive, yet also empathetic, an understanding of pedagogy and human nature, good people skills, an approachable personality. Simon Bachmann fits the bill.

The requirements

Essentially, it’s about ensuring basic support and having more time for conversations – which has a positive effect on asylum seekers’ well-being and on the general atmosphere. This helps ensure everything runs smoothly at the FAC.

Make way for Simon!

Formerly a hospital, the Ziegler building has since been converted into an asylum centre that takes up all of the building’s eight floors. Our first stop with Simon is a quiet room on the seventh floor. Simon enthusiastically tells us the story of how he got the job. “After working as a social worker for 17 years, I was looking for a new challenge. I reached out to SEM to ask if they were hiring, and as luck would have it, they had just launched their floorwalker pilot project. I was ready to take the plunge immediately.”

The eighth floor: Common area and terrace

The top floor of the high rise serves as a retreat area. Plenty of sofas, a terrace, and most importantly, quiet – the common area is a place where asylum seekers, care workers and floorwalkers alike can meet. Simon tells us more about why he loves his new job: “From the start, we wanted to create a foundation of trust with the asylum seekers – through many conversations and by approaching them as our equals. This has been very much appreciated – also by management. They encouraged us in our efforts, were sympathetic to what we were trying to achieve, and appreciated what we were doing.”

The seventh floor: The restricted zone

This floor isn’t accessible to everyone. Women and children who are travelling alone are housed here. “We also offer transgender, gay and homosexual people the option of staying on this floor, because they are often ostracised by their communities,” Simon explains. “The doors to this floor aren’t locked, but all of us floorwalkers and Securitas personnel know who’s allowed to be here – and who isn’t. This system works very well. It’s rare you see an uninvited guest.”


Family management on the sixth floor

The sixth floor is where the action is. Children running along the corridor, mothers chatting amongst themselves. A little boy spots Simon and gives him a hug. A mother from Kurdistan urgently wants to talk to Simon. They exchange a few words in Kurdish, and a floorwalker colleague with a Kurdish background joins in to assist Simon. For the moment, the mood is cheerful. Languages and communication skills are crucial here. “In our job, not only do we need to understand the needs of asylum seekers and support them, we also need to build a foundation of mutual trust through these kinds of exchanges,” Simon explains. “Recently, I was there to see someone receive a positive asylum decision. That really touched me and I was so happy for them.”

The fifth floor: The male domain

Men travelling alone are also housed separately, on the fifth floor. It is quiet and peaceful here today. A floorwalker is picking up an asylum seeker for his doctor’s appointment. This is where we see our very first security officer on our tour of the FAC. Simon explains, “We work closely with the company Securitas, even though our jobs are completely different. The security officers mainly come into play when a situation escalates, or in a medical emergency. In the end, though, we’re all in the same boat and we’re here to support each other.” What’s positive is that far fewer conflicts have escalated since the launch of this pilot project to introduce conflict prevention officers (see box below). “When I started working here, aggressive behaviour, outbursts and theft were more common. But there’s been a shift: today, we are increasingly focused on helping asylum seekers to deal with mental health issues."

The third and fourth floors: Quarantine, isolation, care and legal representation

While the job of floorwalking includes many set procedures, it is also full of surprises. “Of course we document everything in our reports, do attendance checks, pick up residents at fixed times and accompany them, for example, to legal or medical appointments. Most of the time, however, we are in the corridors, offering a smile here, an open ear there, exuding calm,” says Simon Bachmann, summing up his job profile. He is not afraid of anything happening to him while on the job. “I have never been physically attacked or threatened. That’s why it is so important to cultivate relationships with these people from day one: it pays off in the long run. For me, and for the asylum seekers too.”


Floorwalker: Daily routine and to-do list

  • Two shifts: Early shift: Monday–Friday, 6.30am–3pm; late shift: Monday–Friday, 1pm–10pm; one shift only on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Tasks: writing reports, informing care workers, interviews, attendance checks, coordinating appointments, accompanying asylum seekers to medical appointments, conflict prevention and resolution, and most importantly, communication.

SEM’s preventative measures

Since Q1 2021, SEM has implemented the following three preventative measures:

  • Introduction of conflict prevention officers (i.e. floorwalkers) in FACs
  • Reopening the Les Verrières, Neuchâtel, special centre for asylum seekers with behavioural problems
  • Offering pastoral care for Muslims in the FACs