Refugees require legal assistance at each stage of their movement from country of origin to reception. Access to immigration advice in countries of transit and reception is often limited as is wider support once an individual obtains the right to remain. Lawyers Against Poverty has created a series of workshops to offer the refugee community information on their rights as individuals living in the UK in the areas of employment, criminal and family law. The workshops were delivered in Oxford in 2017 and we are eager to see them offered in other locations.
The first of the series of workshops is concerned with employment and includes an explanation of employment rights in the UK as well as advice on seeking employment. The second is about the criminal justice system in the UK, including information on police powers, reporting crimes, an individual’s rights in circumstances where they are detained and charged with a criminal offence and finding a lawyer. The third is about family law and covers matters such as how and where an individual can marry as well as social norms in the context of relationships and the family.
As one component of the Lawyers Against Poverty Refugee Initiative, we want to encourage volunteers to use the existing workshop materials and work alongside local refugee agencies and support organisations to offer the workshops for refugee communities in other areas. There is scope to adapt the sessions according to local demand, the resources available and the specific expertise of volunteers. Although the sessions are not intended to cover matters relating to applications for asylum or immigration law, in our experience it works well to have an asylum and immigration lawyer on hand to answer any questions arising on an urgent basis.
As the workshops are simple in substance, it is not a requirement that a solicitor working in the area of (e.g.) employment needs to give the session on employment law. Indeed, the sessions are as much concerned with “soft” knowledge of living in the UK as on the law. For this reason, it is an opportunity to involve trainees and students in valuable volunteer work to aid a community in need. Overall, our objectives are to: (i) offer volunteers a readily available means for active engagement with refugee communities; and (ii) aid refugees to understand the civil and criminal justice systems and their rights in the UK in order to improve their access to employment opportunities and welfare more broadly.
We have created a quick guide which sets out the steps for organising the workshops. You can download it here: LAP Refugee Initiative – Quick Guide. This is intended to accompany the workshop materials themselves (which are separate slideshows on employment, criminal and family law). In addition, the organisers of the workshops in Oxford created a comprehensive guide which contains a substantial amount of information which may be useful for someone settling into life in the UK. You can download it here: Handbook – Legal Confidence Sessions and Glossary. We will keep in touch and assist you at each stage (e.g. finding a refugee agency or support organisation in your area with whom to collaborate); we want to support volunteers with as much advice and guidance as desired.