On Monday 15 October, Lawyers Against Poverty hosted a discussion at Simmons & Simmons on the theme of what lawyers can do in aid of refugees.
We heard from Professor Alexandra Xanthaki, Research Director at Brunel Law School, who established an initiative whereby students can offer their assistance as volunteers to refugees in Athens. Alexandra showed us a video in which the students describe their time in the Eleonas Refugee Camp and in a community centre for women and children. Pro bono and voluntary work, in aid of refugees and others, is very much encouraged within the law department at Brunel – as Alexandra says, empathy and passion for justice are essential for any lawyer.
We also heard from Phil Worthington, Managing Director of European Lawyers in Lesvos, an organisation working to ensure free and independent legal advice for asylum seekers on the island of Lesvos. He conveyed very strongly the struggle for asylum seekers to understand the system they must navigate, which is complex and ever-changing. Legal aid is only available at the appeal stage (and sometimes not even then) and most will attend their asylum interviews (at which their status is determined) without seeing a lawyer first.
Jared Ficklin, Director of the University of Liverpool’s Law Clinic and a volunteer with ELIL, shared with us his account of Moria, described by the BBC as the “worst refugee camp on Earth.” He said it was not the overcrowding or squalor that created the worst feelings of despair among the inhabitants but rather the slow and entirely opaque system for seeking sanctuary. As a result, individuals who are already vulnerable and living in the camp for many months without a decision can very easily become traumatised.
Adrian Henderson, Leader of LAP’s Refugee Thematic Group, told us about the series of legal insight training sessions that Lawyers Against Poverty developed and delivered in Oxford in late 2017. The sessions were based on employment, criminal and family law and were intended to offer refugees information on their rights as residents of the UK. As a next step, Adrian is intending to create a centralised database with resources for volunteers around the country to use in order to offer the sessions in many more regions.
Kirsty and Richard introduced the new initiative we are currently working on to increase engagement with refugee rights issues and encourage collaborative action to support refugees overseas and in the UK. We want to collaborate with a network of volunteers on a range of activities to assist refugees, including working to offer legal insight training sessions to more refugees, create work experience opportunities for refugees and raise funds for European Lawyers in Lesvos and the Greek Council for Refugees.
Thank you to all members and others who came along on Monday; it was wonderful to come together and discuss what lawyers can do in aid of refugees in the world today.