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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Luxembourg : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Luxembourg : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 9 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Luxembourg is a small country in Western Europe surrounded by Belgium in the west, Germany in the east and France in the south. The rivers Our, Sure and Moselle mark the eastern border.


Main languages: Letzeburgish, French, German

Main religion: Roman Catholicism

Minority groups include Portuguese 58,657 (13.3%), French 19,979 (4.5%), Italians 18,996 (4.3%), Belgian 14,800 (3.4%) and German 10,052 (2.3%).

Non-citizens accounted for almost 40 per cent of the population of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in 2001. Nearly 38 per cent of Italians and 29 per cent of the Portuguese were born in Luxembourg, compared with 18 per cent of French, 17 per cent of Belgians and 15 per cent of Germans.

The local population of some 277,254 speaks Letzeburgish, a member of the Germanic language group. Letzeburgesh, French and German are official administrative languages, while Letzeburgesh is the only national language and French the only legislative language. Luxembourgers also speak and write French and German. An increasing number of non-native speakers now speak Letzeburgesh as this gives them certain employment advantages. There were 350,000 Letzeburgesh-speakers in 2001.

Italian and Portuguese workers came to work in the steel industry and remain predominantly in manufacturing. Other immigrants, notably the French, Belgians and Germans, are usually highly paid professionals. There are many other nationalities working in the international banking centre, the European Union (EU) institutions, and other service industries. There are also French, Belgian and German frontier workers who commute daily to Luxembourg to work.


Luxembourg was granted the status of Grand Duchy in 1839 and was given as a personal possession to the Dutch royal family. In 1867 the Treaty of London declared Luxembourg's neutrality. In 1890, Luxembourg became independent.

The discovery of the iron ore in 1850 led to the creation of a major steel industry, which drew tens of thousands of foreign workers to the mines and steel factories, and brought prosperity to the whole country.

Despite its neutrality, Luxembourg was occupied twice by German troops during the two World Wars. In 1948 it gave up its neutrality to join the new economic, political, and military organizations of Europe, including NATO. The Grand Duchy is a founder member of the EU, and was host to the first European institutions in 1953. At present eight European Union institutions are headquartered in Luxembourg, and the EU Council of Ministers meets there during April, June and October.


The 1868 Constitution guarantees equality of all Luxembourgers before the law, freedom of religion, of expression and of association. The 1984 Law on Languages designated French as the legislative language and Letzeburgesh as the national language, with French, Letzeburgesh and German used in administration. In practice Letzeburgesh is used much less in administration than French or German.

Citizenship is mainly open to those born in Luxembourg to a parent born in Luxembourg. The 2001 citizenship law offers naturalization to immigrants after five years of continuous residence, down from 10 years previously, but they must have a basic knowledge of Letzeburgesh, sufficient income, and renounce their previous nationality.

From 2004 the Ombudsman service has been available to all residents, citizens and non-citizens, for complaints about mistreatment, including discrimination. The trade unions also provide counselling services regarding discrimination.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

Luxembourg has been criticized for discriminatory practices which affect minorities. The government was condemned by the European Court of Justice in 2005 for its failure to implement EU directives on equal racial treatment and equal treatment in employment. The December 2005 draft law enacts most of the directives' provisions, including the repeal of the penal code which allows 'lawful discrimination' in certain circumstances. However, the public sector will not be included in the new employment law. A state-funded centre for equal treatment will be set up to give advice to victims.

There is no state religion. The government pays the salaries of the Roman Catholic clergy, and some Protestant, Greek, Russian, Romanian and Serbian Orthodox, Anglican and Jewish clergy. The Muslim community has petitioned to receive similar funding.

The role of Letzeburgesh in early education has increased significantly over the past ten years. It is the main language for children in nursery schools. At primary level, German is the main language of instruction and Letzeburgesh is a compulsory subject In secondary education the main language of instruction is French. Letzeburgesh is a compulsory subject for the first year in all lycées. Letzeburgesh is taught in general secondary education and technical secondary education, but disappears in the top classes.

Book publishing in Letzeburgesh was mainly of poetry and comedy in the nineteenth century, followed by novels in the twentieth century, and an increasing number of non-fiction books from the 1980s. A relatively large number of fiction and textbooks are available in Letzeburgesh for young children, whereas there are few secondary education textbooks.

There are four daily papers where Letzeburgesh is increasingly used and since 1991 a round-the-clock radio station broadcasts entirely in Letzeburgesh, while other radio stations and television companies offer some limited programming.

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