In 2015 more than one million immigrants and refugees risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean – four times more than in 2014. This unprecedented wave confronts Europe with an ethical and humanitarian obligation but also an assortment of challenges: culturally and socially, of course, but also with regard to the fundamental issues of work and housing. How should these thousands of people be helped to create a new life for themselves and find a place in their host societies? How should they be helped to integrate? How should refugees and residents be helped to meet?
Specialists on questions of migration are of similar opinions: the waves of migration that are affecting Europe today, but will continue in the future, will result in nothing less than a demographic revolution. It is today, and will also be in the future, an issue of cultural compatibility, and the basic transformation of European cultures and ways of life. This extremely complex and immense challenge invites us to think of inclusive, cross-boundary solutions (education, employment, housing, culture, etc.).
Encouraging personal encounters
Pierre Bley, president of the Œuvre, says: “One of mateneen’s (‘mateneen’ is Luxembourgish for “together”) most important goals is promote the creation of projects that encourage the face-to-face encounters of residents, asylum seekers and those who have already been granted asylum. The commitment, openness and welcome of residents are the most important conditions for new arrivals to be properly integrated into our society. Integration is not simply the result of a few language courses. It also takes the form of assistance in terms of schooling for children, housing and work, for which the network of associations and public engagement are fundamental. Integration of the new arrivals is impossible if it is just one-way: it occurs above all through face-to-face encounters”.
Planning and building tomorrow’s society together
The mateneen programme has not been conceived exclusively for refugees. In placing emphasis on making displaced people self-sufficient and on social cohesion in the broadest sense, it intends to be actively engaged in forging the society of the future. It is not simply about launching projects FOR such-and-such a group but WITH them. Both residents and the new arrivals are invited to take part and play their part in building the society they wish to live in. A proportion of the projects selected will be started and directed by the refugees themselves. This approach substantiates what wide-ranging studies on migration have demonstrated: that the countries which invest in welcoming and integrating their new arrivals – rather than confining them in ghettoes and preventing them from being active – are those that will benefit in the future, not only from the refugees’ gratitude but also from the talents and creativity of these new citizens. Thus, in contrast to widespread fears of a negative fallout, society as a whole benefits from increased socioeconomic wellbeing.
Projects for society as a whole
The Œuvre has deliberately chosen to support projects that focus on issues that are not necessarily exclusive to the newly arrived members of society. The major challenges faced by refugees are typically schooling, employment and housing…but these are concerns that also strongly affect many established residents of Luxembourg. Thus, many of the projects are addressed to the whole of the Grand-duchy’s population. This is particularly the case for projects revolving around housing as finding and paying for accommodation in Luxembourg today is a serious issue for many inhabitants, refugees included!
Stimulating a collective nationwide spirit of emulation
The myriad schemes proposed by a large number of project holders place the mateneen programme at the heart of the question of the integration of refugees and, more generally, social solidarity in Luxembourg. The goal proposed by mateneen is to unite all those involved in the call for projects so as to boost the visibility of each individual project and generate synergy between them, and to build and support a collective nationwide spirit of emulation by bringing together and connecting associations and residents to debate and take action on the integration of refugees. Last but not least, it is advisable to raise the public’s awareness of issues relating to the inclusion and collective construction of a welcoming and supportive society. The Œuvre aims to help curb the “anti-refugee” sentiment that is now found pretty much all around Europe. More than ever, it is important to mobilize ourselves and move beyond the “us” and “them” dichotomy. The smooth integration of the new arrivals in our society will largely be a function of the human and financial resources devoted to it from the moment of their arrival.
To counter the rise in populism throughout Europe, the call for mateneen projects is knowingly part of a humanist, responsible, mutually supportive and realistic scheme geared to the complexity of the new admission that will be so necessary to the future social cohesion of the Grand Duchy.