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Corinne Cahen is Luxembourg’s Minister for Family Affairs, Integration and the Greater Region
Luxembourg’s highly-developed economy and location in the heart of Europe have attracted spectacular levels of immigration. Foreigners currently make up 47% of the total population, so Luxembourg is a country where integration and social cohesion are part of daily life and of social policy. Luxembourg’s targeted investments and projects have been used successfully to avoid cultural tensions and promote the peaceful coexistence of around 170 nationalities.
One challenge, though, is the job market. Luxembourg has three official languages, which can be an obstacle for immigrants looking for work. Although unemployment has decreased over the last few years, it remains a challenge in terms of integrating immigrants, especially those with lower levels of education. But access to employment is essential to integration. Struggling to find work can lead to dangerous frustration with the country itself.
The Ministry for Family Affairs and Integration offers, among other things, a “Welcome and Integration Contract” (CAI), including language and citizenship classes and an orientation day. This contract allows immigrants to get acquainted with the history, customs, values and, most importantly, languages of our country. We put a lot of effort into increasing the numbers of language
classes as well as continued professional training classes. Many initiatives – from the government, the private sector or NGOs – facilitate training paths and offer access to special training and
Municipalities play a very important role in the integration process, as they are on the front line, welcoming immigrants. Some of Luxembourg’s local authorities have even developed local integration plans. The Luxembourg Reception and Integration Agency (OLAI), which is part of the Ministry for Family Affairs and Integration, in collaboration with the Union of Luxembourg
Cities and Communes (SYVICOL), elaborated a practical guide to integration at the local level. This guide aims to help municipalities and local policymakers implement a long-term integration policy. The OLAI also grants subsidies to municipalities, to help them get started.
But social cohesion can be achieved only if integration works both ways. Immigrants need to make a step towards the host country, just as we need to consider their needs. Successfully integrating foreigners also hinges on good collaboration between the various government bodies, the municipalities and civil society.
The importance of this approach becomes clear when looking at the real estate market, for which Luxembourg tops the list of the most expensive countries in Europe. The housing shortage is a known issue for immigrants and nationals alike. For this reason, housing is also a priority on the government’s agenda. In an attempt to create affordable housing, the government launched a lower-cost housing scheme. It also financially supports municipalities that create and offer social housing. An important partner in the housing sector is the social real estate agency (Agence immobilière sociale), which helps socially-deprived people access housing and offers support and advice. Immigrants are systematically directed towards this body.
These measures, of course, have financial implications. But it’s first and foremost an investment in the future of our society and a necessary step towards social cohesion. It’s essential to support
immigrants in finding affordable housing, which can be a very difficult endeavour for anyone, and to offer them various services to which they can turn for help. By supporting them, we promote
their independence and boost their integration. We appeal to the immigrants’ sense of responsibility and ensure that the same support is offered to immigrants and nationals alike – thereby helping to avoid cultural and social tensions. So far, Luxembourg has managed this balancing act very well.
Education is a different story. There is no shortage of school places. Immigrant children, who may lack the necessary language skills and knowledge, are assessed by the Ministry of Education, which identifies the right class or school for those children. Specially trained teachers – so-called “intercultural mediators” – have been employed. They speak the most common native languages
of immigrants – such as Serbo-Croatian and Arabic – and help children catch up with the national school programme. Welcome classes, with the ultimate goal of integrating children and young adults into regular classes as soon as possible, have been multiplied recently to receive refugee children. This also entails costs, but our system has proved very effective. School is an important element in the integration process, as it allows the children to become familiar with Luxembourg’s culture and connect with local people. Furthermore, it can also be an incentive for their parents to integrate as fast as possible into society.
The arrival of refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict has presented new integration challenges for Luxembourg, from the lack of housing possibilities to communication problems. All our good practices were put to the test, as they weren’t necessarily designed for the particular needs of people from such a different cultural, linguistic, political and often religious background. We face a double challenge. First, we have to offer housing opportunities and social support for all – financially as well as psychologically. Second, when we integrate these people into our society we must make it understood that integration is not a one-way street, but a process that demands effort from both sides.
So far, we have managed this exceptional situation well thanks to good collaboration between various government bodies, the municipalities and civil society. Special language classes are offered, some municipalities provide housing, and the ADEM job agency is assessing employability. OLAI has launched a project called “Welcome to Luxembourg”, which is designed to give asylum-seekers basic information about the country and help them understand where they live. At the invitation of the Ministry for Family Affairs and Integration, and with government financing, the Red Cross created “LISKO”, a service that promotes integration and social cohesion for those granted refugee status by supporting them in administrative procedures and creating links to services and the population.
Cultural tensions can arise in a society where different religious beliefs, political views and cultural backgrounds have to mix and merge over a long period of time. But Luxembourg has proved that this doesn’t have to lead to permanent conflicts in a country whose multiculturalism is reflected in all aspects of society. We have succeeded because we give immigrants the tools and means to understand and integrate into a new society. We offer them the opportunity to participate in our society. That is what integration is all about.
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