Nathalie Morgenthaler, pictured, says that people need to take the first step to create a jurisprudence
Photo: Matic Zorman
In Luxembourg, foreigners make up half of the population and three quarters(1) of the workforce. Politicians love talking about the success of this melting pot of cultures. But, is it really so harmonious?
A June 2019 article on RTL offered insights into the letting practices of some landlords in the country. Two real estate professionals described how landlords had turned down Indian home-seekers earning a good salary because they allegedly feared that as tenants they would cook curry inside the property.
This level of discrimination is perhaps the tip of the iceberg. But it is hard to say how far the problem extends because so much goes unreported.
Since 2008, the main body responsible for handling discrimination complaints and raising awareness has been the Centre pour l’Égalité de Traitement (CET). Last year, its two full-time staff members handled 21 cases (2) of alleged discrimination related to ethnic origin in Luxembourg. Nine were voluntarily withdrawn (2). “Since the start, we have to say we are not very well known,” CET director Nathalie Morgenthaler says, adding that this means it is hard to know how closely these figures mirror society.
Anecdotally, when the CET was present at the migration festival in March, Morgenthaler said the feedback was mostly positive. “People came to us and didn’t report much discrimination. On the contrary, they say it’s better here than abroad.” Following the June news story, I reached out to Indian community members to hear their experiences in relation to landlords. One said that they had only experienced such discrimination in France. Another person, who wished to remain anonymous, is taking her former landlord to court for withholding their deposit for supposedly necessary cleaning and repainting a flat they rented for four years. When the tenant complained, “He said he hated Indians. I was in a depression for a month,” she told Delano.
Surveys suggest discrimination is fairly widespread in Luxembourg. The last CET survey, commissioned in 2015 (3), found that a third of people polled had been discriminated against based on their nationality and 38% on ethnicity. And 45% of respondents said discrimination in relation to ethnicity had increased a lot over the past 5-10 years. Meanwhile, over a quarter had witnessed a discriminatory incident over the past three years.
The scope of the law governing the CET’s activities does not enable them to focus on cases of discrimination based on nationality--only on race and ethnicity. And the CET’s limited resources mean they have no new data. But what is telling is that respondents were less likely to lodge a complaint about discrimination in 2014 than they were in 2009.
“To move the case forward, they have to go into detail and give evidence,” says Morgenthaler, adding that a fifth of those who do report cases will then withdraw, a rate which is similar in other European countries. In some instances, she says that complainants simply wish to move on with their lives. Some will have changed jobs, others lack evidence. “In one case that went to court, it was one person’s word against another,” she says.
Interestingly, a lack of funds to fight does not necessarily mean a case is abandoned in Luxembourg. If the case is concrete, the complainant can receive legal support from a union, asbl or, if referred to the prosecutor’s office via CET, they will be assigned a lawyer. But few have the endurance to make it this far.
“It’s important that someone takes the first step to create a jurisprudence. Like with Facebook. We’ve had the first cases of hate crime on Facebook. But, if people do nothing, we don’t get anywhere,” says Morgenthaler.
Like all European countries, Luxembourg is monitored by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), whose last report (4) described a “latent xenophobia” in the populist press and on the internet. It fingered some media for enabling the spread of hateful remarks from the public, aimed at refugees, Muslims and foreigners in general, through poorly moderated comments platforms.
The report came a year after the 2015 national referendum asking, among other things, whether foreigners resident for five or more years should be allowed to vote in national elections. Morgenthaler says that such debates tend to stir up tensions. But events abroad can also have an influence.
“During the days after the January 2015 attacks in Paris (Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher), two cases of Muslim pupils being verbally attacked by teachers in Luxembourg with words like ‘Are you satisfied now?’ or ‘When you’re grown up, will you do the same?’ were reported,” the ECRI report author wrote.
It added that women wearing the Muslim head scarf reported being insulted and spat on in the street. The situation became so serious that at the start of 2018, a group of researchers founded the Islamophobia Observatory at the Institut de Recherche, d’Éducation et de Dialogue Interculturel to collect information on Islamophobic incidents in Luxembourg.
After calls from the ECRI, Luxembourg police and judicial authorities now record and monitor such incidents and publish the data. In 2018, police received 43 criminal complaints regarding incidents of racism, revisionism or other forms of discrimination (5). From January to July, they received five. The ECRI also raised the issue of police and media disclosing the ethnic origin of suspects in reports. CET has since tried to organise awareness training with journalists.
Knowing one’s rights
Morgenthaler suggests that the small number of discriminatory incidents recorded related to nationality could reflect a lack of awareness among people of their rights, because it gets little media exposure. Gender rights, on the other hand, received greater exposure through the #MeToo movement. In recent years more gender discrimination incidents were reported than those based on ethnic origin.
One of the solutions proposed by the ECRI brings the debate back around to housing. In recommendation 81, it calls for the development of social housing for workers in low-paid sectors of the job market. It implies that much of the anti-migrant rhetoric that circulates derives from social exclusion experienced by low-paid Luxembourg nationals in a country where the cost of housing is high. “This will contribute not only to the integration of workers with migration backgrounds, but also benefit low-wage workers with Luxembourg nationality.”
Centre for Equal Treatment (Centre pour l’égalité de traitement)
Promotes and monitors equal treatment in Luxembourg.