Raparen Mohammad, assistant branch manager of Denner supermarket in Rapperswil-Jona on 9 November 2021.

From Syria to Switzerland

A new beginning

Raparen Mohammad risked her life to escape from Syria. She now works at Denner in Rapperswil, where she is the assistant store manager.

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Michael West
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What we do

The young woman in the bright red Denner coat swiftly stacks a shelf with fresh tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers. Afterwards, in the small office at her store, she takes some time to tell us about her life.

Raparen Mohammad, who is 29 years old, speaks standard German flawlessly. She also has an excellent understanding of Swiss German. And yet Raparen only came to Switzerland as a refugee seven years ago. She has spent most of her life in north-eastern Syria, growing up in multicultural Qamichli, a town close to the Syrian-Turkish border. Raparen's family is Kurdish, and her father worked as a baker. ''My parents only ever wanted the best for me and my six brothers and sisters", she notes. "They wanted us to be free and to carve out our own path." As the young Raparen got good grades at school, she was able to start studying at university. Her dream was to become a psychologist.

A life under threat

All of Raparen's plans fell through when, in the spring of 2011, the civil war erupted in Syria. Her parents were concerned that Qamichli would fall to Daesh's terrorist forces. They feared that their children's lives and freedom would be threatened. As a result, in 2012, the entire family crossed the border. Their plan was to travel to Western Europe. First, though, the family had to endure a year of difficult conditions in Turkey. Raparen had to work in a clothing factory to earn money. In order to escape this dead-end situation, the family members ended up entrusting their lives to human smugglers. As such, they had to go their separate ways to get out of Turkey.

Raparen initially went to Bulgaria with one of her sisters. "We risked our lives over there", she says. "We were crammed into a lorry along with around fifty other refugees. We were meant to go to Vienna, but our air ran out on the way. I was really scared that I would suffocate. With the doors of the lorry locked, there was no way out. That was an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone. Yet compared to all of those who died at sea, I was really lucky."

Once the two sisters eventually got to Austria, they began the final stage of their journey. They made their way to Switzerland to apply for asylum. They were granted F permits which, as foreigners, afforded them the temporary right to stay in Switzerland. Meanwhile, the rest of their family was granted asylum in Germany and now live in Lower Saxony.

The Denner store as a classroom

In the first few days of arriving in Switzerland, Raparen memorised as many German words as she could. She would go on to take several language courses. "However, I didn't learn much. My vocabulary grew much faster when, five years ago, I started working at Denner. The shop was my best classroom."

The Denner store in Rapperswil's Sonnenhof shopping centre feels a bit like home to Raparen. She knows all of the regulars who come to her store's aisles, always greeting them by name and with a cheerful smile. Everyday, Raparen processes payments and orders. Indeed, she has become so involved with the shop manager that this Syrian lady now works as the latter's assistant. She would like to manage her own team one day.

Raparen is really enthusiastic about Switzerland. "From day one, people have been friendly, open and very helpful. And I always marvel at how clean and safe this country is." However, there are times when she feels sad about her administrative situation, which only gives her temporary residence status: "I would also really like to be settled when it comes to my papers. Switzerland became my country long ago."