But when Jalel Matri of the Association of Tunisians in Switzerland paid a four day visit to Lampedusa recently, he was amazed at what he saw and heard. And he came back convinced that practically no-one wanted to come to Switzerland.
“When 5,200 Tunisians are walking around in a village with a population of 6,000, they are visible!” he said.
“I was able to talk to them at length and they all told me the same story: most of them are between 18 and 26 years old, and between 60 and 70 per cent of them had jobs, mainly in tourism. But because of the drop in the number of tourists following the revolution, they have temporarily been laid off. Others are bus drivers, mechanics or carpenters.”
“Most of them have never left Tunisia before, because they couldn’t get a visa. But now they can go to Europe without worrying about being arrested by the Tunisian police. They get together the 2,000 dinars (about SFr1,500) they need for the trip, form themselves into a group, buy a boat and go.”
Matri said almost all come from the tourist regions of southern Tunisia. He had not met a single person from one of the poorer regions where the revolution started.
The first arrivals also included escaped prisoners and members of the police force of the old regime.
Their dream is to join family members in France. None but a very few have any wish to remain in Italy - and even fewer want to come to Switzerland, Matri discovered.
“A lot of men from southern Tunisia emigrated to France decades ago, leaving their children behind. Now these children have grown up, and want to rejoin their relatives,” he explained.
Some have come because they were persuaded by other young men from the same neighbourhood, others because they wanted to meet the challenge of going to Europe.