“We knew we had to continue working.”

Natalie Cereghetti interviews asylum seekers at the Federal Asylum Centre in Chiasso. She recalls the outbreak of the coronavirus there.

Bundesasylzentrum chiasso anhoerung 2


“When the lockdown was announced in mid-March, we knew that we had to continue with our work, come what may, and that we would have to reorganise things. The first thing we did was to adapt our offices so that no more than three people could be present in an interview room at any one time. We also had to resolve technical issues and reorganise our installations to ensure that interviews could still be carried out in compliance with the legal requirements.”

Legal requirements

“The problem was that the asylum seeker‘s legal representative was not allowed to meet their client in the interview room – at least not initially. Communication was very difficult: everyone was talking at the same time over an intercom and from different rooms. The language barrier made the situation even more difficult.”


“Things were hectic and we had to be very flexible. Everyone was frightened of becoming infected. Asylum seekers had to be placed in quarantine. Then travel restrictions were imposed at the Italian border and the flow of traffic was severely disrupted: sometimes our Italian interpreters had to wait hours before being allowed to enter Switzerland. After a month things began to settle down and we established some kind of routine.”


“Most of the asylum seekers entered Switzerland from Italy. We were surprised how cooperative and calm they were during the interviews. They realised that we were all in the same boat, so there were no difficulties even though the situation was so strained.”


“Here in Ticino the people are very lively and close to each other. The new federal rules were, and still are, tough for all of us. Everyone wants to return to normal as soon as possible, but we have learnt to be patient.”