(JB) Friday night in the capital and while men and women in business suits talk about their weeks in bars in the city centre, in Bonnevoie there is a social function of a different sort.
Around 50 men and women are gathered in a small but busy space. They help themselves to drinks and snacks and when a new person enters the room, people look up and smile, perhaps someone will approach them with an outstretched hand.
I am at a WELLcome Luxembourg gathering, a meeting point between Luxembourg residents and asylum seekers and refugees. Hassan is one of the first people to approach me. A dentist from Damascus, Syria, he has been in Luxembourg since October and knows all about the Wort website. He explains this is the third time he has attended the gathering.
First, it makes you realise that people like you. They don't hate you
“First, it makes you realise that people like you. They don't hate you. You don't feel any racism,” he says.
Hassan says it is important for him to meet people outside of his foyer, to meet locals and understand how things work in Luxembourg. “All the people who come want to help people,” he says, adding that he had found someone to give extra support in learning German.
15 years old and alone in Luxembourg
At 15, Arif is the youngest attendee. He came to Luxembourg from Afghanistan alone two months ago and has no family or friends in Luxembourg. “When I come here, I don't feel alone,” he says in perfect English about the group. “If I was not here, I would be in the camp (foyer). If I did not come I would not meet people from outside. I don't like to stay in the camp. Sometimes there is fighting and shouting.”
I like that they are all so kind and they come to you. It's not like they are shy and no-one talks
Several people ask me if I am the sister of Soraia. I wonder who this person is and eventually find her. A local language teacher, Soraia offers free, informal language class at the university in the evenings for refugees. “It's my second time here and I already know some of the people. I like that they are all so kind and they come to you. It's not like they are shy and no-one talks. It's open.”
WELLcome was launched by community engagement group Transition Bonnevoie in the autumn of 2015 to offer something for refugees in Luxembourg. The committee was able to obtain the use of a room free of charge and set up a Facebook group to get the word out.
“What's nice is that every time there are new people and old people. We have people who come and like it and bring friends,” project coordinator Magali Cahen of Bonnevoie Transition explains.
The atmosphere feels safe, relaxed and positive and there have been no problems since the project started. Magali puts this down to the kinds of people who attend. “It's the people who come that make it great.”
Forging new projects out of WELLcome
New contacts and respite from the boredom of living in a foyer are not the only benefits to emerge from WELLcome.
“We created Digital Inclusion thanks to this place,” explains Farqad, an electrical technician from Baghdad. The idea for the asbl came when Farqad and friends met Patrick, an electrical engineer from Luxembourg in December last year. They asked if he could help set up an internet connection in a foyer.
I saw lots of people who were young and smart and full of energy but had nothing to do
“I saw lots of people who were young and smart and full of energy but had nothing to do. I thought they could fill their time learning computer sciences or languages. I thought anyone who cannot afford it should have access,” Patrick recalls.
Patrick appealed to friends and contacts to donate old laptops which he realised people like Farqad had the expertise to restore.
“We take laptops from donors and delete everything. Then we repair them if needed, reinstall programmes and give them to refugees who don't have enough money to buy one,” says Farqad.
The crux of the project is to give access to computer-aided learning, be it to master languages, or learn new ICT skills. And it it not only refugees who benefit from their work. Digital Inclusion works with Asti and the Red Cross but its services are also there for anyone who lacks the means for computer-aided learning.
“So far the people we have given laptops to have been refugees but it could be families. Now the association has been contacted to work with the homeless,” says Patrick.
The next WELLcome meeting will be held on April 1. To find out more or to attend, visit the WELLcome Facebook group
To find out more about Digital Inclusion Luxembourg, visit digital-inclusion.lu