Berta Fernández-Alfaro

Berta Fernández-Alfaro is the Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Coordination Office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The IOM in Bern, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, may be a small international organization, but its issues are of global importance.

Article published in the info letter March 2024.

Berta Fernández-Alfaro ...

... was born not far from Bern, in Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany). However, as she grew up in Valencia and has Spanish citizenship, she considers herself to be more Mediterranean.

... arrived in Bern in 2021 and took up her position as Chief of Mission at the IOM, Coordination Office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

... enjoys practising yoga, dancing, photography, visiting museums, going to concerts, reading and listening to podcasts.

What are you responsible for?

Apart from managing the Bern office and 25 staff, I am responsible for liaising with our most important Swiss contacts at federal (SEM, FDFA, SDC), cantonal (Cantonal Migration Authorities), and city level. This includes the targeted mobilization of resources for activities in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, but also for humanitarian emergencies or migration governance projects abroad in coordination with the IOM headquarters in Geneva and the field offices.

To achieve common goals, I work with the Swiss private sector, embassies and the diaspora in Switzerland. Finally, I raise awareness and lobby on the topic of migration at public events, in the media and in parliament.

Which projects are you most excited about right now?

This year we are celebrating our 30 anniversary with a photo exhibition from Reuters photojournalist Darrin Zammit Lupi at the Kornhausforum in Bern (February 16 to March 17), which will then be on display at the SEM and the Swiss Customs Museum (April to October 2024, in Gandria, near Lugano).

In addition, we have received financial support from the SEM for the family reunification program, through which we will support an estimated 200 people (i.e. 120 migrants in the context of family reunification, 20 migrants with humanitarian visas and 60 migrants in need of information and referral).

Furthermore, we are working with the UN Global Compact for a Dialogue on Migration with the private sector in June 2024 (the agenda will be published here). And finally, the Director General of the IOM will make an official high-level visit in the second half of 2024 to meet with the Federal Council, SEM, FDFA and SDC.

When you arrived in Bern, what were you most surprised by?

I was born in 1971. So when I arrived in Bern in 2021, I was surprised to discover that my year of birth coincided with the 50th anniversary of Swiss women gaining the right to vote.

What do you appreciate about Bern?

The fact that it is a UNESCO capital, with significant museums and culture, many yoga studios, and the Aare river as a great mindfulness reminder («be present, go with the flow»).

Where do you most like to relax from work in Bern?

I go to the gym several days a week and I like to visit several cafés and restaurants in the old town and near my workplace, like Adrianos, Froh-Sinn, Jul, Luciano's, Casino, Steinhalle or Kirchenfeld.

What is the difference with your culture and the culture in Bern?

I would say the high quality of life. The pace is also slower than in other larger cities I have lived in, which allows for human contact and interesting conversations over an apero.

What do you already know you will miss when you leave Bern (or Switzerland)?

Probably the feeling of being safe, breathing incredible mountain air, and drinking fresh mountain water from the tap.

What is still on your «to-do list»?

Visiting the Jungfrau mountain and the historical St. Gallen library, going once more to Zermatt and sleighing down the mountain.

Any advice to newcomers in Bern?

Get a halbtax (half fare travelcard) to travel in Switzerland, buy an inflatable boat for the Aare, and get an apartment with a view (mountains or old town) – it is worth it! I would also recommend to join the female diplomats meetings organized by different embassies, since it is a great opportunity to network.

What was one of the most important encounters during your stay in Switzerland?

Shortly after my arrival in Bern, I had lunch in the same restaurant where Federal Councillors Cassis and Keller-Suter were eating with their teams, so I approached them and introduced myself.

Who would you like to hear from next?

Aamir Shouket, Ambassador of Pakistan.

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