LUXEMBOURG CITY • At the end of January, hundreds of asylum-seekers and local residents responded to an invitation to discuss what Luxembourg could do better to integrate new arrivals.
What happened in the following months defied all expectations.
€230,000 (S$348,000) in funding was made available for two full-time roles to help accompany refugees on this journey and establish a series of information and training sessions under the moniker "The Connections" in association with foreign workers' rights association ASTI.
The project kicked off its activities in March, with a series of six information sessions aimed at empowering participants to find out more and signposting them to relevant services such as intensive language courses.
A total of 44 people were put through their paces in the first sessions, before starting specific training workshops on things like getting their qualifications recognised, starting a business and being placed on a work attachment.
Through the journey, each individual receives guidance and mentoring and is introduced to people and organisations who can help them make their next step.
While similar projects exist in Luxembourg, what sets The Connections apart is the fact it helps asylum-seekers at the time when they need to be occupied most: while waiting for a response to their asylum applications.
Some applicants wait several years for an answer and although they are able to work within six months of registering in Luxembourg, many lack the knowledge and support required to gain the training needed to begin working.
The project has not been without its challenges, however. Of the first cohort of 44 people, only two were women. The Connections project coordinator Zina Menhal said that this is because in some countries women are discouraged by their husbands from working or are intimidated by the challenges. A women-specific event will subsequently be held later in the year to tackle these issues. Meanwhile a separate session for Luxembourg residents who expressed an interest in helping asylum-seekers was hosted in May. "The Connections provides a nice natural outlet for the people who say 'How can I be involved?' because we have more work to be done," said Ms Michelle Moses, manager of The Connections.
The two women are ambitious for The Connections to grow. They plan to apply for further funding in the summer to expand the project. Meanwhile, Michelle says it would be a "dream" to one day be able to create an application to match asylum seekers to roles and mentors in Luxembourg.
"An application like this would do a lot of the work for us. Of course, we will always need one to one. But with an online presence we could reach more people. Once we made it successful, we could extend it to Belgium and Germany, for example."