Journal: Over the late summer Djuna Bernard launched a Facebook page welcoming refugees to Luxembourg. It was a huge success.
It was an operation to have her tonsils removed that was the unlikely catalyst for Djuna Bernard to launch the Refugees Welcome to Luxembourg initiative. “I was unable to talk for a week, which is difficult for me, and sitting in bed I read an article in [German news weekly] Der Spiegel about students in Germany helping refugees,” she explains.
Although the situation is different in Luxembourg, where institutional services take care of essential needs, Djuna thought that what ordinary people could offer was their time and support to give the refugees back some quality of life. “I decided that’s something I can commit to, it is one of my strengths. I have always been a volunteer, in scouting, in politics, as vice-president of the national youth council.”
It was the last week of August, and in Luxembourg not many were paying attention to the refugee crisis that had started to make headlines in Germany and Austria. Djuna, who has just started her masters in non-profit management at Heidelberg, contacted a social worker friend at government integration office OLAI, to see how she might help. “She said, if you motivate some other young people it would be great to organise some activities for the children.”
Djuna soon created the Refugees Welcome to Luxembourg Facebook page. “The first point was to fill the void and inform people about the situation, get them talking. The second was to motivate young people.” Over the space of just one weekend the page had attracted thousands of “likes” and Djuna’s inbox was flooded with messages. When broadcaster RTL contacted her for an interview, she realised the project had taken on another dimension. “If something is on national news on RTL in the morning even those Luxembourgers on holiday hear about it.” As this article was published the Facebook page had 8,774 “likes”.
Djuna had to redefine the project and, with the help of a friend, she has begun the process of creating a non-profit organisation. She had a long talk with family minister Corinne Cahen, whom she already knew through the scouting network, and she also contacted the institutions working with refugees--OLAI, ASTI, Caritas and the Red Cross--to coordinate what volunteers should know about the situation and what training they might require. “You can’t have people just going to refugee shelters without any preparation. Or have people turning up with bags of clothes at my house.”
Indeed, the initial response was so surprisingly successful that the challenge now is to coordinate the structured efforts of the institutions with the uncontrolled wave of enthusiasm of individuals willing to help on the back of the media exposure. “We are still in a position where we can point out very specifically how to prepare for the situation that might arise in the next few months, because in Luxembourg it has actually been quite calm so far.”
The non-profit organisation will not only help coordinate the local relief effort, by informing people where they can take what items for donation or how they can give their time, it will also serve as a communications service. “We want to inform the public about who the refugees are and where they come from. We want to avoid any prejudice.”
The other challenge is to keep people interested and ready to act with the same fervour they displayed in early September, to make them understand that volunteers and donations might be needed in November or January.