Members of Lawyers Against Poverty vote to provide further funding in Lesvos to support refugees amid the deteriorating conditions.
In 2018 members voted to provide a grant of £15,000 to Oxfam in Greece to support Oxfam’s continuing legal aid programme for asylum seekers on the Greek islands. This followed on from LAP’s earlier grant in 2017 of €10,000 which funded one lawyer from the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) for 5 months and managed legal fees for new and ongoing cases. At that time Moria camp in Lesvos was accommodating about 8,500 people with a capacity of 2,840.
The situation in Lesvos continued to deteriorate and by November 2019 Moria camp was accommodating nearly double that in 2017: 16,500 people and more than 5 times the capacity. During 2019, Greece saw more irregular arrivals than Spain, Malta, Italy and Greece combined. And yet the registration, medical and asylum services remain woefully insufficient. Very few have access to legal advice despite EU law requiring such access for all asylum seekers. The consequences could not be more serious – literally a matter of life or death. Those refused asylum are returned to the potentially life-threatening circumstances from which they originally fled.
The EU-Turkey deal has also exacerbated the problem with those landing on the Greek islands being detained there in over-crowded and inhumane conditions until their applications are determined.
Support from Lawyers Against Poverty
LAP’s grant was part of Oxfam’s wider legal aid programme which has continued to operate through local partners the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and the European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL). The grant (1) funded one GCR lawyer for 6 months and managed the legal fees of new and ongoing cases for that period, and (2) enabled the development and printing of a legal information pamphlet produced by Oxfam, GCR and ELIL.
The total impact of the LAP grant was the support of 1667 beneficiaries,of which 517 beneficiaries were reached through the GCR lawyer(126 through individual case management and 391 through group legal information sessions) and 1150 through the dissemination of the legal information pamphlet. The GCR lawyers opened 86 new cases (in total 126 beneficiaries) or an average of 21 new clients per month. Of the 126 people, 45 were children, 51 men and 30 women.
The impact of the grant was maximised through both the group legal information sessions and the legal information pamphlet. The pamphlet was especially successful in reaching a large number of asylum seekers of many nationalities, who were likely otherwise to struggle in understanding the rapidly changing systems and also the services available to help them. It included a contact list for legal advisers and was produced in 10 different languages which covered the languages of 95% of asylum communities on Lesvos. Through the many NGOs working in Lesvos, some 10,500 copies were distributed during the grant period.
This second LAP grant formed part of a wider legal aid intervention programme provided by Oxfam through its local partners. Since its inception in May 2017 to October 2019, Oxfam reached 8,888 beneficiaries directly and a further 10,500 through the legal information pamphlet. Legal aid continues to be the single most important intervention for people arriving on the Greek islands, and yet remains largely unavailable for most. The impact of legal aid provision extends beyond the actual advice, also having the effect of reducing stress, empowering people to act on their rights and enabling them to support each other through the process.