Commitment of Banque de Luxembourg employees towards refugees featured in "Le Jeudi"

The summer supplement of Luxembourg weekly newspaper “Le Jeudi” dedicated a section to citizens’ initiatives to help refugees in Luxembourg. The series, entitled “Action for Refugees”, reported on the initiatives taken by Banque de Luxembourg employees to help improve the living conditions of people seeking international protection.

Source: Le Jeudi
by David Broman

Of all the initiatives featured in the “Action for Refugees” series, this one is a little different. First of all, it was “anonymous” in the sense that it was not an official “project” supported by a non-profit organisation or an NGO. And secondly, although like the other initiatives it came from ordinary citizens, it was unusual in that it originated somewhat spontaneously in a private company.

An appeal for solidarity

In September 2015, following a “mass influx” of refugees, particularly from Iraq and Syria, authorities boosted their reception facilities and public awareness heightened. People in Luxembourg were quickly galvanised into action, especially to improve the living conditions of people seeking international protection. Without fanfare, Banque de Luxembourg, through its chief executive officer Pierre Ahlborn, stepped up to help the refugees. Concerned about the human tragedy, the bank launched an appeal for solidarity among its employees to encourage them to get involved in a citizen-based initiative.

Local, hands-on initiatives

“In the wake of that appeal, we developed a programme that comprised a series of practical initiatives,” says Nicole Dochen, head of human resources. The programme was a chance for staff to show their solidarity by volunteering for three “hands-on” initiatives to support the Red Cross.

Marianne Thissen, a member of the bank’s legal department, coordinated the action. “Our first operation took place between 3 and 7 October 2015. About thirty of our employees took on tasks such as cleaning and painting to refurbish the Don Bosco centre. The bank also made available its technical team for some of the heavier work. At the end of that project, the first refugees moved in. At the same time, from 3 to 11 October, more than forty of our employees helped the Red Cross sort all of the clothing generously donated by the local population. And then, from 19 October 2015 to the end of June 2016, about 180 staff members helped serve three meals a day, seven days a week, at a centre set up in the former maternity wing of the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg.Unlike the other two initiatives, this one enabled us to actually interact with the refugees.”

In addition, the bank organised collections for items such as bikes refurbished by its cyclist-employees, baby supplies, and lunch boxes and water bottles for schoolchildren. Some employees were even involved in entertainment activities. What is important to note, though, is that all of the employees were doing this in their own time and on a personal and voluntary basis.

Nowhere: a film in which refugees tell their story

Last but not least, the bank’s multimedia director, Vito Labalestra, produced an eight-minute film* in conjunction with the Philharmonie, Luxembourg’s philharmonic orchestra, featuring various aspects of refugee life at the country’s reception facilities. “We were able to follow the refugees’ journey from the tents to their arrival at a reception centre,” he explains. While people may have had different perceptions about the aim of the initiatives, all agreed that not only were they useful, but the experience had a deep personal impact on them, both from the point of view of casting their colleagues in a new light and in terms of what they discovered about themselves.

Take, for example, Stéphanie Rodin, who works in the communications department: “I brought two children into the world in the CHL maternity hospital. I have to say that the first time I went there... to that place, which had been so emotionally familiar to me, I was catapulted into a completely different, almost unreal world... It really affected me.” Or Marianne Thissen: “Yesterday, once again, I saw someone I had met at the centre. Realising how personally delighted I was to see them again, I thought how happy that person must have been, too, to be able to say: ‘Today I saw someone I knew.’I feel as if we are helping to make this a bit like their own country.”

* Nowhere, (nulle part),