CASAS has thirty-five years of History
The Social Service of Assistance to Emigrants, CIMADE, the Catholic Salvation and Amnesty International in Strasbourg were each reporting that their structures were not specialized enough to properly serve the asylum seekers they met. Working together, several members of these organizations decided to create a less institutionalized association that would specifically focus on the issue of asylum: CASAS was born on December 28th, 1983, three days before the year 1984, which is why its 30th birthday was celebrated in 2014.
At the beginning, CASAS experienced very challenging financial conditions. That improved in the following years after but at the same time, the climate for foreigners and the associations helping them deteriorated and many modifications in the right to seek asylum also took place.
Evolving in a deteriorating environment
If there is one thing that will always exist at CASAS, it is testing our ability to adapt. Indeed, since CASAS creation, there have been some nineteen successive legislative amendments, more than one every two years. The first, dating back to 1985, just eighteen months after the creation of CASAS, marked, according to Olivier Brachet, the entry into the crisis of the right to seek asylum, a crisis that has continued to develop ever since.
The other highlights of these constant legislative changes were:
- the law of 1993 introducing into French law the Schengen-Dublin European legislation regarding the states responsible for the decision on asylum,
- the ordinance of November 24th, 2004 which created a special code for all matters related to foreigners and the right of asylum, the CESEDA, in effect since March 1st, 2006.
- important successive amendments in 2003, 2007, 2015 and 2018
CASAS had to evolve in this changing environment. The first president, Claire Matteoti, was followed by nine others, with total parity as CASAS has been directed by five women and five men.
The first walk-in hours took place on the CIMADE premises but very soon CASAS moved in the yellow house of the quai St Nicolas, actually followed soon after by the CIMADE. An important renovation of the house, carried out by Freddy Sarg, the president at the time, allowed us to significantly improve our framework of action. We traded our charcoal stoves – that had to be loaded every morning, and whose ashes had to be emptied – against electric heaters much more flexible in their use. It was at the price of a few bottles of the vintage “Casalis” that each one took care to sell … and to drink, to help finance the renovation. The “yellow house” mentioned in the film “Les éclaireurs” but which was actually named “Maison Georges Casalis” was born.
Our employees, trainees and volunteers
Shortly before, in 1991, we had just recruited the first permanent employee, thanks to subsidies granted by the Strasbourg City Council. Becoming the linchpin of CASAS, Pascale Adam-Guarino will soon celebrate thirty years in the association. The most amazing thing is that after all those years, she did not lose her smile or her enthusiasm!
Even with several recruitments of employees who, despite not being full-time, reached the number of eight when finances were at the highest, CASAS could never have existed without the volunteers who made it work with almost no help during seven years. They then carried out translation, writing, teaching, hospitality, administrative and animation tasks with loyalty, professionalism and a sense of responsibility that has never wavered during all these years. Many times, it is people who were helped by CASAS who wish to come and help!
This steady commitment from new trainees and volunteers is one of the miracles of CASAS, even as the environment has changed and we are struggling for our survival. Receiving asylum seekers has become considerably harder since the association’s creation and, on many occasions, CASAS has had to step up to defend to every possible extent decent accommodation and reception of asylum seekers. The “companions” who help with the appeals are so called because they originally accompanied asylum seekers to the Prefecture so that their case could be taken into account. We noticed that respectable white haired people were the most effective in this area.
New missions and new contexts
Later on, it was mainly the accommodation conditions that provoked protests and interventions with elected officials, with more or less luck, depending of the time. But the results were undeniable even if they were not always up to the needs. Simone Fluhr, one of our former employees, has contributed a lot, with, among other things, the films that she inspired and/or made with Daniel Coche, the last one being about our work, “Les éclaireurs.”
Relations with the administrations and the French state have changed. European subsidies have given us a lot of trouble and it was in 2012 that we stopped being an official partner and became a local subcontractor. This limited us to being able to hire only four employees, including one part-time. For the time being, we are fighting to try to ensure only appeals and reviews, with deadlines very difficult to keep.
We can no longer assist in writing the first story. This is currently being done by platforms that are completely overwhelmed by requests and too under-equipped to respond satisfactorily. If for the moment we manage, it is thanks to the conviction and the dedication of the employees and the unwavering commitment of the volunteers: let them be warmly thanked here.
In 2015, we left with nostalgia the “yellow house” which had sheltered us for so long. We moved to the Protestant House of Solidarity. We are still neighbors of the Cimade and now in addition of SEMIS and of the Protestant Social Center with whom we have been working for a long time. We are no longer supported by state funds, even though it is the only responsible entity in the area of asylum seeking, and our only resources are now the help of local communities and especially private donations, in money as well as in time.
In legal matters, we thought we had reached rock bottom with the 2015 reform, supposedly adapting European directives regarding welcoming immigrants into French law, while about half of asylum seekers still do not have accommodations. But the recent reform has managed to push even more applicants in misery: lengthened retention periods regardless of the lack of efficiency and the cost of these delays, too early choice of a mandatory and non modifiable language, video hearings, depriving of real contact which is so important when talking about traumatic events, non-suspensive appeals, etc.
We also adapted our action by multiplying individual or small group interventions for school tutoring or language learning, cultural activities and outings, while continuing administrative and legal support through our permanent services. If the future does not look rosy, we trust our teams and our ability to adapt to continue to make the journey of asylum seekers arriving in our region safer and more humane.