Husain Jasem in a portrait taken for Delano in November 2016 by Sven Becker
Refugees face language and cultural challenges in their integration into Luxembourg.
As most international residents will have experienced firsthand, integrating into a new country takes time and effort.
Many expats who have lived in Luxembourg for several years still find it hard to form relationships with Luxembourgers if they have not mastered the Luxembourgish language or worked and lived alongside nationals. So how are the 3,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly living in shelters, expected to integrate when they are separated, not just by language, but also physically and professionally?
For Husain Jasem, who came to the Grand Duchy from Syria in October 2015, language was the major hurdle to integration. “When I arrived in Luxembourg I found it difficult as I did not speak any of the national languages.”
Twenty days after arriving, Jasem enrolled in an intensive French language course and then started volunteering at the refugee camps in order to practice with the local volunteers. “I was able to improve my French and also learn a bit of Luxembourgish through the volunteering experience,” he says. “I would advise other refugees and asylum seekers to do this as well; it makes life a lot easier for them.”
Language is key
Hamoda Alcomali, also from Syria, who was granted refugee status in 2013, agrees: “Language is the most important thing to learn, after that, other aspects of life become easier.”
Whilst both Jasem and Alcomali proactively sought French courses to aid their integration, they are not a mandatory requirement and it is up to the individual whether to attend, albeit at a reduced cost of €10 per semester. “I think the Luxembourgish government is doing a lot to help,” states Jasem. “However, making language courses both mandatory and free for individuals granted refugee status, as well as those still awaiting it, would make a huge difference.”
For “Fadiyah” (not her real name) from Afghanistan, integration is more complicated. “In many Muslim countries women are not permitted to receive an education,” she explains. “My husband does not want me to go to language classes or to socialise with westerners, so I feel very isolated and unable to live life as easily as I had in Afghanistan.”
Fadiyah’s children are at Luxembourg state schools, but she is unable to help them with their homework. “I feel that I am not a very good mother in this country and I am very depressed.”
“The Connections” project, established in March 2016 by the Association de soutien aux travailleurs immigrés (Migrant Workers Support Association) was designed to assist refugees and asylum seekers integrate into Luxembourg society through language courses, internships and volunteer opportunities. However, the first group to begin the course was comprised of 42 men and only two women.
A course specifically for women is scheduled for the coming months, yet for women like Fadiyah, it is not a viable option. “Maybe to Luxembourgish people, it looks like I don’t want to integrate and that I am ungrateful,” laments Fadiyah, “but that is not the case at all, it is just a difference in culture.”