The roots of ISS are to be found in the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) which started 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 inter-war period, a central association was created in Geneva entitled «The International Service for the Aid to Migrants » (or International Migration Service IMS), better known today as the 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, which decided to open a Swiss Secretariat to deal with them. During this period of worldwide economic depression, many families returned to Switzerland, victims of unemployment or financial hardship.
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 years of war that followed, 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 started a collaboration of over 40 years with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the purpose of supporting refugees in the French and Italian speaking parts of Switzerland.
Switzerland, and Geneva in particular, had become a magnet for those who were fleeing their country of origin and were asking for help and protection. ISS worked to clarify their situation and, where appropriate, to prepare their welcome in Switzerland or to enable their return to another country.
ISS opened an office in Zurich and had some associates in Bellinzona and St-Gallen to ensure it met its responsibilities 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 1989 and the adoption of the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights, ISS 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.