BASEL – Answering the growing needs for health and social services for elderly Swiss Muslims, plans are being for drafted in Basel to establish care homes for Muslims, triggering debates surrounding health services for minority groups.
“We now have a system for the accommodation of elderly immigrants from southern European countries, such as Italians and Spaniards, distributed among small groups of around 15 people,” Felix Bader, the head of the Basel Country government long-term care department, told swissinfo.ch on Friday, July 15.
“These institutions offer a lifestyle that is largely similar to the lifestyle followed in their home countries. We also have an institution for elderly Jews.”
The issue was first brought to media focus after two Social Democrat MPs of Turkish origin launched a motion in Basel in February.
It then resurfaced following the announcement by the health and social department of canton Basel Country that it was in the process of laying out a future vision for health and social facilities that would take into account the special needs of elderly Muslims.
Bader said that there are no definite plans as yet, but there is “serious thinking in this direction”.
He added that these social institutions under study would work according to “the same system applied in the Jewish institution, with Muslim sensibilities with regard to food, clothes, religious practices and the relationship between the two genders taken into account”.
According to the CIA Factbook, Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims, representing 5 percent of the country’s nearly eight million people.
Currently, very few number of Muslims enter old age care home in Switzerland as according to Islamic values, parents hold a very special place and children are obliged to look after them till they pass away.
Another fact remains that the emigration of Muslims to Switzerland is recent, and they are generally young people, or that some return to their home countries after retirement.
Basel expects that the number of elderly Muslims who will need places at old-age care institutions within the next 15 years could surpass 400.
Highlighting special needs for Muslims in care homes, the move was welcomed by Swiss Muslims as respecting such needs.
“On the one hand, we hold fast to the concept of the Muslim family and the high status occupied by the elderly in its structure. We insist on them being close to the grandchildren,” Selim Salama, a doctor at Geneva University Hospital, told swissinfo.ch.
The changing atmosphere in the west pressed needs for elderly Muslims, Salama asserted.
“But, on the other hand, the contemporary Western reality we live in is characterized by an individualistic tendency. The husband and the wife - in most cases – have to work full time, and at the same time they look after the children,” he said.
“All this makes it difficult for them to keep an elderly person at home and fulfill all their needs which increase as they age.”
A similar opinion was share by Hafid Ouardiri, co-president of the Interknowing Foundation in Geneva, in statements quoted by The Tribune de Genève newspaper on July 5.
“This remains a possible solution for people who have no other option or those who cannot depend on their families,” said Ouardiri.
Yet, other Muslim needs in Switzerland were more pressing in healthcare system than the planned care homes.
Facing daily incidents of Muslim inconveniences in his work at Geneva University Hospital, he called for adapting current medical services.
“We at the Geneva University Hospital oppose the establishment of Muslim-only special care institutions for the elderly, or institutions that separate between residents on religious or racial grounds,” he said.
“This is because we believe, based on our experience, that there is a lot that can be done inside existing institutions in Switzerland, with Muslim requirements being completely respected.”
Instead of setting up special care institutions for elderly Muslims, Salama stressed “the need to channel efforts towards the adaptation of existing health systems”.
He also called on medical staff to observe caution when dealing with Muslim patients, providing halal food for them or allowing them to choose their food.
A necessary spiritual support was also urged for patients who suffer from serious diseases or are approaching the end of their lives.
Related Links:Politics, Media Taint Swiss Muslim Image
Muslim Appeal on Swiss Minarets Rejected
Swiss Muslims Seek Minarets Ban Reversal
Swiss Muslims Promote Understanding
Hijab Struggles in Swiss Basketball