CASAS is thirty years old, brief history recap
Three years ago, a small article entitled “From welcome to manhunt” commemorated, with a little advance, the thirty years of our association’s existence. It compared the almost heroic material conditions of the association’s beginnings with those of the less difficult years that followed, but simultaneously with the deterioration of the general context and the profound changes in the right of asylum.
If there is a thing that does not risk anything at CASAS, it is the testing of our capacities of adaptation. If counted correctly, there have been seventeen successive legislative amendments since the creation of the association – in other words, more than one every two years. The first one, dating from 1985, or only 18 months after the creation of CASAS, marked (according to Olivier Brachet) the start of the crisis in the right of asylum, a crisis that has not stopped developing since.
The other highlights of these continual legislative changes were:
- The Law of 1993 introducing European Schengen-Dublin legislation on the states responsible for the decision on asylum into the French Law
- The Law of 2004 creating a special code for all matters concerning foreigners and the right of asylum, framed by important changes in 2003 and 2007.
We are currently waiting for another upheaval that cannot be delayed beyond 2015 and which will lead to the transposition of the European directives on reception and procedures into French law.
CASAS had to evolve in this ever-changing context. The association was created on December 28, 1983, in other words three days before the year 1984, which explains why its thirtieth anniversary was celebrated in 2014. The first president, Claire Matteoti, was followed by eight others, almost as many men and women, since CASAS was chaired by four women and five men, and our current president is Jacques Scheer, who has presided the longest over CASAS.
The first permanencies were sheltered by the CIMADE but soon thereafter the association moved to the current premises, followed shortly by the CIMADE. A major renovation project, carried out by Freddy Sarg, the president of the time, allowed us to significantly improve our policy framework, to trade the charcoal stove that had to be loaded every morning and the ashes of which had to be emptied, for electric convectors much more flexible in their use. It was at the price of a few bottles of the “Casalis” cuvée that everyone applied to sell … and to drink, to help to finance the renovation. The “Yellow House” evoked in the film “The Scouts”, but baptized “House Georges Casalis”, was born.
Shortly before, in 1991, we had just recruited the first permanent employee, thanks to subsidies granted by the City of Strasbourg. Pascale Adam-Guarino, who became the face of CASAS, will celebrate in two years her quarter-century of service in the association. The most surprising thing is that we have not succeeded in making her lose neither her smile nor her enthusiasm!
Despite various recruitments of employees who, even without being full-time, have reached the respectable figure of eight at the best association’s finances, the latter could never have existed without the volunteers who made it run practically without help for seven years, providing tasks of translation, writing, teaching, reception, managing and administrative work with a loyalty, professionalism and a sense of responsibility that never faded over thirty years. Many times, it is CASAS-assisted people who subsequently wish to come and help others!
Moreover, one of the miracles of CASAS is this continuous commitment of new interns and volunteers, even as the time has changed and as we are currently struggling to survive. The context of the reception of asylum seekers has become considerably tougher since the association was founded and CASAS has had to step up to the point of defending, as far as possible, for the accommodation and reception of exiles. “Companions” who assist in the preparation of OFPRA files and appeals are so called because initially they accompanied asylum seekers to the Prefecture so that their file would be taken into consideration. We had noticed that the wise and elderly people were the most effective in this field.
Later on, especially it was the conditions of lodging that provoked protests, interventions with elected representatives or officials, with more or less happiness depending on the period. But the results were incontestable even if they do not always meet the needs. Simone Fluhr, one of our former employees, among others, contributed a lot, by films she inspired and / or directed with Daniel Coche, including the most recent one, “Les éclaireurs”.
Relations with the administrations and the State have changed. The European subsidies gave us a lot of trouble, but in 2012 we ceased to be an official partner and became a local subcontractor. This constrained us to have four employees, of whom one has a fixed-term contract and works part-time, whereas for the time being we are fighting to try to ensure the same tasks. As of now, we have achieved this due to the conviction and dedication of the employees and the faultless commitment of the volunteers: they are all greatly appreciated.
What will the next step be? No one knows: we will have to adapt to new operations in new places since Casas must leave the “Yellow House”, maintain this balance and coordination between employees and volunteers, find other resources, but thirty years, isn’t it the strength of many years of experience?
Two years later
The expected changes took place: we left with nostalgia the “Yellow House” which had sheltered our organisation, for the Protestant House of Solidarity, still neighbours of the CIMADE but now also of the SEMIS and the Social Protestant Centre with which we have worked for a long period of time. We are no longer supported by state funds, which still retain the domain of asylum claims, and our only available resources are now from the help of local authorities and mostly private monetary and time donations. We are lacking a bit of perspective to judge the consequences of the legislative changes of 2015, which have just been implemented. Some seem rather positive, others impose new constraints. We will probably have to reorient our actions, probably towards a development of day care and a reinforced support to families and children, the next chapter still to be written…