So-called “nonsuit” families, i.e. families who completed the asylum application procedure but did not obtain refugee status, should in theory “hand in their keys” a month after the French national asylum court rejects their application.
The families are supposed to use this month to find accommodation or apply for assistance to return home. In most cases, if they choose to stay in France, they end up without any accommodation. In fact, these families don’t have access to the accommodation, social reintegration centres or any other traditional forms of accommodation.
They can alternatively apply for leave to remain on different grounds.
In reality, though, they often end up on the streets.
Their “nonsuit” status means they can neither be deported nor given papers. This grey legal area leaves the families in a situation of insecurity and prevents stakeholders from acting.
• Raising awareness and lobbying local stakeholders to come up with a response in our area
• Preventing the families left on the streets from becoming vagrants, finding alternative solutions – often as a matter of urgency
• If need be, helping the families to deal with bureaucratic procedures
• Helping the families to participate and integrate in society, thus helping everyone to live together
• Raising awareness and lobbying: Elected representatives, we have met (and continue to meet) municipal and community representatives to raise their awareness about people who leave asylum detention centres. We often have to counter firmly-held beliefs and false perceptions, such as “we’re not allowed to help them”, or “they’re living in Brest, so they should go there to get help”. Since then, and now that many of the facts have been established, these arguments have given way and we are able to work together to come up with solutions for our area, although consultation meetings still need to be formalised. With regard to local residents, we’ve organised public meetings with the community in eight communes. We presented our project to the pupils at the Notre Dame de Kerbertrand private school, and we took part in a round table discussion entitled ‘Brittany – a welcoming region’ at the film festival held in the commune of Douarnenez in August 2016. We have also managed to get to know each other better by organising festive events (the annual festival ‘fest noz’, taking part in other festivals). We will continue to maintain and extend our presence in public life. With regard to other stakeholders, we’re reinforcing the links we already have with schools, pupils’ parents, teachers, other organisations and institutions such as (CDAS – the local social services commission), the CMP (medical and psychological centre), the hospital (the permanent provider of access to healthcare) and the PMI (maternal and infant protection centre). We’re also setting up consultations with other charitable organisations and raising their awareness about the problems faced by these families.
• Preventing the families left on the streets from becoming vagrants: Our network enables us to provide emergency shelter to families in a shared cottage and a rural cottage, certain individuals have also taken families into their homes, but we are aware of the limits of the solutions we provide. We thus made an agreement with municipalities that provide accommodation in exchange for a cash payment, something which is the case for five municipalities. We need, however, to continue expanding our range of both emergency and long-term accommodation options.
• Helping families with bureaucracy where necessary: This does not involve completing paperwork on families’ behalves, but helping them with the initial steps at the prefecture, social service centres, etc. We need to demonstrate that people can be more independent and formalise the procedures for them to do so. To do so, we should strengthen and develop our skills in terms of helping people access aid.
• Helping the families to participate and integrate in society: Reciprocal contracts between the organisation and families that receive support seek to boost their participation in the process. Each contract is personalised and sets out the conditions of the family’s occupation and use of the accommodation. Individual support projects help families to join in local activities and community life. The needs of each family member – man, woman or child – are accounted for, guaranteeing harmony within families.
Continuing to establish links with other organisations makes it possible for families to volunteer and/or for them to be included in leisure activities (choirs, sports clubs, etc.). Children’s’ needs have to be accounted for; attention is paid to ensuring they are schooled and integrated by helping them to take part in sport or leisure activities. A further matter we are concerned with is improving their quality of life; we monitor their health and links are established with healthcare providers (GPs, medical and psychological centres), in respect of families’ privacy.
Our work relies on participative funding: a number of donors transfer money every month (their donations range from 5 to 25 euros), and we also receive ad hoc donations. We currently have 250 members and estimate that we have approximately 50 active volunteers. They renovate the accommodation we provide, help people to move house, organise events (attic sales, fest noz) and take part in local celebrations (e.g. the festival of Rias, international week). Families are involved in our activities whenever possible. Our community’s companions help to organise public celebrations. Many of them are members and make financial contributions. These events (such as fest noz, stands at festivals, etc.) enable us to raise our profile but also to sell products made by volunteers and the families: crepes, dishes from around the world, etc. The organisation doesn’t have any paid staff. Some ten friends of the Emmaus Rédéné community officially belong to it and make financial contributions to the organisation. Members who aren’t directly linked to the sector (members of our respective personal networks) make financial contributions, as does Emmaus 44 St Nazaire through its membership and donations.
We opted for a system of collective governance, shared between eight people who are tasked with organising the organisation’s development. The group of governors draws on support from local collectives or community contact persons who serve as a liaison with local institutions.
The governors meet each week on late Monday afternoon. Families arrive every Thursday morning. Families are involved in the practical side of running the organisation: they help people to move house, take part in public events (preparing meals, recounting stories, etc.). They can also join the organisation if they want.
A the project ‘cent pour un toit’ (a hundred for a roof) was founded by community activists Cimade (a French NGO that helps refugees and migrants), Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (the league for human rights), Emmaüs Rédéné, CEAS (research and social assistance centre) and people moved by the plight of families whose asylum application has been rejected. We’re also in contact with other collectives that work to take in foreigners through the network in Brittany and in the department of Finistère in particular.
- In November 2014, the Quimperlé section of the league for human rights was approached by a volunteer from the access to rights department. A family of five (of whom three were children aged from 5 months to 14 years old) had just handed their keys back to CADA but didn’t have anywhere to stay. The local social services hadn’t done anything to help this family and no accommodation was available for them to go to. The family was met by the human rights league department which decided to provide somewhere for the family to stay. The next day, the league called upon its network and the family was able to stay in a communal cottage for a few weeks. Following this, someone from the network agreed to let the family stay in their cottage until March 2015.
- In March 2015, the Quimperlé municipal authorities agreed to make available an unoccupied house for several months in exchange for payment of the costs. This was the fruit of our meetings with elected representatives and local as well as organisation stakeholders. Emmaus Rédéné has an official legal status and could therefore sign the occupancy agreement. We also helped the family fill in all the necessary paperwork during the search for a more long-term solution.
- The same situation arose in May 2015, leading us to set up this collective project. This meant we had to apply to form the organisation ‘cent pour un toit’.
- On 14 July 2015 (very symbolic as this is France’s National Day), the organisation received a receipt of its application from the prefecture.
- The ceremony for a republican sponsor held on 16 July 2015 brought together 80 people from different backgrounds, ten sponsors and all of the families who had received support since November 2014. It celebrated our investment and the involvement of local elected representatives.
- We are currently providing accommodation for nine families and 20 children. How many more families we can take in will depend on our financial, human and real-estate resources. Given how the situation is developing, we’re expecting requests from families and their needs to increase.
• We have seen that it is the women who bring about integration because they organise daily life, deal with administrative procedures and bring up their children. They are more willing to approach organisations and potentially more receptive to social connections than men. Men find ways of earning a living, work paid through universal employment service cheques or volunteer work. The situation they live in changes each person’s position and role within the family; we support parents who are often distraught and the parents we help often don’t know how to react to the situation, which options to choose for their children and themselves. Our work has already started. They should grow and become more structured. Our concern should be ensuring the people who leave a protected, supportive living environment overnight can become independent. Some of them haven’t worked for years and so they need to retrain. The objective is to make it possible for them to access general rights and to work independently so that they eventually find long-term housing and become able to run their lives themselves.
• At the moment, our campaigning primarily focuses on informing people and this must be kept up. We are constantly looking for accommodation options and seeking partnerships.
• We would also like to highlight the reciprocal contract of commitment that lies at the heart of the values we are developing and serves as a vector for the person receiving support to be taken care of, or rather, given recognition.
• There is still work to be done regarding the people who provide support: they should not take over for people when dealing with bureaucracy. We are preparing them to deal with the most difficult encounters and we remove ourselves from the proceedings as soon as possible. We’re planning on drafting a report of the practices used.
- Two families (four children) have successfully left the programme.
- Our project is innovative because it has set up an organisation that unites people around a shared objective, the same situation, the same indignation, and specifically this involves people and organisations that do not pursue the same overall goals (for example, Diwan (a federation of schools), the league for human rights, Catholic aid and Emmaus). This solidarity project brings with it a powerful federating force. We have overcome our differences and are standing united around a common cause and shared ideal.
- We are the only organisation in the area to campaign on behalf of these people (whose asylum applications have been rejected). We take part in meetings between collectives of exiled people in our region. Our project stands out within this collective because it targets people who have been in the area for several years, whereas most collectives spring up around welcome and orientation centres and generally seek to help refugees who have come through Calais. Our project takes a long-term and inclusive approach.
- We have concluded agreements with five communes: Scattered accommodation makes it easier for people to integrate into local society and prevents ghettoisation. Experience spreads between communes and they feed off each other’s successes.
- We publish a newsletter, and we are present in the network of collectives working for people in exile. We take part in round tables and receive requests for information about our project from other regions.
- We also published an article about our project in a professional journal entitled ‘the social connection’. A blog is being set up but we already have a Facebook page which has 340 ‘likes’.
- We take part in various festivals, such as: ‘the smugglers of light’ in Bannalec, the international week of Quimperlé, the round table of the cinema festival at Douarnenez, rias of the communes of Quimperlé community, and the Taol Kurun festival in Arzano at which Nathalie Péré-Marzano from Emmaus International and the French actor Jacques Bonnaffé, who works with the theatre project ‘someone who wants to cross’ made speeches.
- At the local level, we place great importance on intercultural exchange, the network from the region of Brittany is open to others, the research and social assistance centre is a particularly rich venue of intercultural exchange and the network of organisations includes choirs, which are a great social melting pot. By joining and participating in these networks, the families receiving support are able to develop their own support structure.
- Finally, in 2016, we obtained a subsidy of 10,000 euros of support from the Abbé Pierre Foundation, and in 2017 the Foundation of France donated 15,000 euros.
• Partnership with the Les Jardins de Kerbellec (the gardens of Kerbellec), an organisation that helps people integrate through organic market gardening, we have a standing order for a weekly basket of vegetables.
• We receive ad hoc support from several businesses such as the organic coop of Quimperlé, the local supermarket
• Various craftsmen donate construction material
• People lend their cottages on an ad hoc basis
• We work with the youth information services in Quimperlé
• Numerous articles have been publish in local newspapers in western France and ‘Le Télégramme’
• We need to develop our communication with the general public to support our efforts to lobby public authorities
• Our next general assembly (22 March 2017) should encourage others to integrate in our group of governors to relieve them of their current workload and lower our level of support
• We should increase the number of members and, through town halls, find accommodation made available without charge in other communes, so we need to hold public meetings
• We need to seek new sources of funding