Passerell, a Luxembourg non-profit organisation working to defend the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, recently announced that it was in urgent need of financial support.
Set up in 2016, Passerell has spent the past six years supporting vulnerable asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in the exercise of their rights. The team is composed of three full-time employees, one part-time interpreter and one secretary working on an integration contract, as well as about 35 legal volunteers. The non-profit has monitored more than 800 files since August 2021 and held up to ten daily interviews with people in distress. Moreover, since March 2022, the non-profit has mobilised to answer the questions of people having fled Ukraine and intending to apply for temporary protection in Luxembourg.
However, as project coordinator Ambre Schulz recently explained: “Passerell can no longer guarantee its funding beyond the month of August, so we cannot maintain a salaried activity to welcome people looking for information on their rights to our offices”.
Chronicle.lu reached out to the Passerell team to learn more about the mission of the non-profit, the current situation and what can be done to support it.
Marion Dubois, project manager and one of three full-time employees at Passerell (together with Ambre Schulz and Lise Aylin Kaya), explained that the non-profit had initially focused on socialisation between refugees and residents. However, since most of the team had a legal background and, as part of their work on the ground, they saw a lack of communication and understanding among asylum seekers and refugees concerning their rights, they decided to offer legal counsel and set up “legal contact points” in 2017 – work which is now on hold due to the financial situation. These legal contact points are run by the non-profit’s three full-time employees, who meet with people to explain the various procedures and answer their questions, as well as do further research if needed, together with the volunteers.
Various funding sources
In terms of funding, Marion noted that Passerell does not currently receive state funding. Originally, the Œuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte had given the non-profit some grants to help it get started. However, projects funded by the Œuvre are expected to eventually obtain the support of another institution or sponsor in the long term. Passerell has launched a new project, for which they have applied for additional funding. “Of course, we want to remain independent, but being independent also means having a diversity of funding sources”, Marion stated.
In addition to Œuvre funding in the past, the non-profit has developed its own resources to remain independent. The Ministry of Education, Children and Youth and the Luxembourg Bar authorised the non-profit to offer training courses on asylum law and fundamental rights, which the team have developed, for example, with social workers from the Luxembourg Red Cross. Private and company donations are also always welcome. “Funding is quite diverse. But our opinion is if we want to keep on functioning, we have to have at least a bit of public money”, Marion said, adding that this was important in terms of allowing the team to continue to offer legal counsel but also regarding advocacy and working as a “guard dog” of the rule of law and democracy in Luxembourg. In the past, the non-profit had requested public money, for example through project calls, and received some funding from various ministries. “In a democracy, it’s not because the state is giving us a bit of money that it makes us unable to say when something is wrong and to speak out”, she added. “We’re basing our criticism on the law. We’re here to have the best application of the law possible. I think that’s a common goal that we share with the institutions and civil society. We’re here to work together towards a better effectiveness of the rights in Luxembourg. That’s our main objective”.
Regarding how the public can support Passerell’s work, the non-profit published a book in 2020, titled Réhumanisez-moi - 9 vies en suspens (rehumanise me - nine lives on hold), which can be purchased online at: https://www.passerell.lu/rehumanisez-moi. The aim of the book is “to put a face and a name” to some of the people supported by Passerell and to make the subject of migration and asylum law more accessible. Members of the public can also donate via bank transfer to CCPLLULL LU54 1111 7043 2710 0000 or (for a tax deduction) to the account of the Fonds interculturel with the reference “Don pour Passerell” to CCPLLULL LU88 1111 08787590 0000.
Reacting to crises
In the context of subsequent crises (COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, etc.), Marion explained that these have affected the team’s work in terms of the number of requests for help they have been receiving. “The demands keep growing but our funds are not growing similarly”, she elaborated. Nevertheless, the team tries not to turn people away, even if it can be challenging for three full-time employees to meet with about ten people every day. She added: “Every crisis, the work demand increases and brings lots of new legal questions”. Temporary protection for Ukrainian refugees is no exception. Marion also explained that the research her team carries out in the context of such questions is not just for the people whom they meet but is intended to be accessible for the broader public, for instance through Passerell’s legal newsletter and on its website.
In terms of a potential language barrier, Marion explained that most of the people whom the team meet come from Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan, the three main nationalities of asylum seekers in Luxembourg. Among the team members, there are those who can speak and translate Tigrinya, a widely spoken language in Eritrea, Farsi, a language spoken in Afghanistan and Iran, and Arabic, among other languages. Passerell also works often with the Luxembourg Red Cross’ team of social assistants, as well as sometimes with Caritas in this and other areas. “It’s a team effort”, Marion noted, adding that Luxembourg was a peculiar case in Europe in that Red Cross teams do not have a legal practitioner in its camps and instead rely on lawyers. Since there are very few lawyers specialised in asylum law in Luxembourg, they can be overwhelmed with requests. “I think it’s very important to have a team of different actors all working together towards the same goal, i.e. effectiveness of the rights”, elaborated Marion. “We take the time that lawyers don’t necessarily have to listen and to give information”.
Regarding the overwhelmingly positive response to Ukrainian refugees in Luxembourg (and elsewhere in Europe), Marion said: “It shows that we are capable of welcoming people. We have the means and when we want to, we can do it. If we look on the bright side, if crises like this happen in the future, then hopefully this generosity will be shown again”.
What the future holds
Looking to the future and what could happen should the non-profit not receive sufficient funding, Marion explained that the employment contracts of Passerell’s three full-time employees will come to an end in mid-August. She elaborated: “The organisation will still exist as a legal entity. It will still be an Asbl, there will still be a team of volunteers. But, the legal contact points and advocacy activities will be reduced”. The team are currently discussing other scenarios depending on whether they receive positive news regarding funding.
Nevertheless, the non-profit has already garnered significant support since raising the alarm three weeks ago. “We are very glad about the support we have received so far from private persons”, Marion said, adding that the team was hopeful that their dialogue with the public authorities would bear fruit.