Why Legal Aid
Flooded tents in the refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece
At SolidariTee, we believe access to legal guidance is a fundamental right. We also believe it's one of the most empowering, long-term forms of aid we can offer.
What is legal aid?
Legal aid refers to the provision of free, expert, professional guidance to those undergoing the Refugee Status Determination process - in other words, those who have fled persecution and are seeking protection under international refugee law. The process of seeking asylum is a notoriously complex legal process, and takes place in a country and language that asylum seekers are often unfamiliar with. Legal aid involves a combined team of lawyers, caseworkers, translators and interpreters, psychologists and protection officers. It can involve:
Information sessions and resources - these ensure asylum seekers are informed of their rights, obligations and of the key steps within the process, in a language that is accessible to them. Information can be provided in person, via hotlines, or even via social media.
Interview preparation sessions - these are 1:1 sessions which take place with a caseworker and/or lawyer, which help asylum seekers to gather and organise the evidence they need to represent themselves and tell their story. Many refugees having been forced to flee their homes at hours' or days' notice, without being able to bring any paperwork or identification with them, so support in collecting the required evidence is crucial. Additionally, trauma affects the ways in which memories are stored and recalled, and given that asylum seekers may have had to wait in camps for months or years before their asylum interview, preparation and support is needed in order to recall and organise the details of the events which took place.
Family reunification - families who have been forced to flee their homes may not have been able to escape together, and may not always have control over which country they reach within Europe. Everyone has the right to live in safety with their family, but it is far from straightforward to transfer an asylum claim from one country to another, and frequently requires expert legal guidance, to both prove you are related to your family member and to organise an international transfer request.
Medical and psychological advocacy - legal aid organisations work closely with psychologists and medical professionals, to ensure that those with additional vulnerabilities or needs are able to access treatment and protection.
Translation and interpretation - in Greece, an asylum interview takes place in either Greek or English, which may not be spoken at all by those who have fled other countries. Asylum processes are so specific that even tiny mistranslations can be perceived as inconsistencies in an asylum seeker's story, which can in turn reduce their perceived credibility and chance at receiving refugee status. Expert translation and cultural mediation is crucial in order for asylum seekers to make themselves understood and access their rights.
How does legal aid help?
In the short term, legal aid minimises the risk of an individual who has a legitimate claim to asylum being deported unjustly and brings family members, scattered across Europe, back together again. This aid allows refugees to begin prosperous lives beyond camps, and gain rights to education, accommodation and healthcare. In the longer term, legal aid also reduces the pressure on asylum services, preventing unnecessary appeals and reducing the pressure on services inside refugee camps.
That is why, at present, we are focusing on supporting qualified experts in legal aid and translation services by offering grants to individuals and NGOs working right at the heart of the 'refugee crisis'. Click here to read more about the organisations SolidariTee supports:
Why is legal aid so underfunded?
Asylum services were not prepared to deal with the unprecedented numbers of refugees coming to Europe in 2015. Due to political disputes and the rise of far-right rhetoric towards immigration, asylum services have since remained underfunded and understaffed. As a result of this, asylum seekers currently in Greece frequently wait months or years for their asylum interview, which will determine whether they are granted refugee status. This interview is of paramount importance to an asylum seeker, as it will determine whether they can remain in that country or not.
Thousands of vulnerable people are forced to live in dangerous, overcrowded camps while awaiting their asylum interviews, and this is the best case scenario. Given that the camps reached capacity years ago, a large portion of the refugee population is currently homeless, sleeping in abandoned buildings and parks. Such desperate situations have led to an increase in violence, drug abuse and prostitution. No one should have to suffer this long in legal limbo, and in such troubling conditions.
Asylum seekers homeless due to overcrowding of camps, Thessaloniki, August 2019
Living in a refugee camp is untenably difficult. Conditions are unsanitary, overcrowded and are often met with a lack of basic supplies, such as clothes. Pressurised circumstances and untreated trauma often leads to violence, drug abuse and further mental health difficulties.
Legal aid NGOs offer the legal guidance that refugees require in order to successfully make their asylum case. Improved legal guidance speeds up the asylum process and dispels false rumours, meaning that refugees can leave camps quicker. Crucially, it ensures that highly vulnerable individuals are granted the safety and security that they might not otherwise reach.
How Mobile Info Team Helps
Mobile Info Team's family reunification support allowed for Zania, along with three children, to join her husband and their father in Germany.
"Honestly, Mobile Info Team helped me a lot. I told them my story – that I was pregnant and in a very bad situation. The caseworker on my case was very good, and I want to thank her personally very much. She helped me with each stage of my file. There is a big difference between Mobile Info Team and the other organizations. I am very thankful for all members of the Mobile Info Team, because they are helping cases just like me.”
How Fenix Helps
"Another client told us she had lost her brother years ago while they both fled violence. While she sat in our office and one of our lawyers showed her photos of missing persons on the ICRC website, she froze and pointed at her brother’s photograph. Today we got the call from ICRC confirming he is in fact the brother and is also looking for her. They will be put in touch this week"
2nd August 2019
An anecdote from Amanda Munñoz de Toro, the Executive Director of Fenix. Fenix's support in Lesvos is ensuring the reunification of hundreds of families across Europe, and asylum success of thousands.