Many of the UK asylum and immigration lawyers who set up RLS-Athens had spent time in Greece and France where they witnessed the realities faced by those seeking sanctuary or family reunification in Europe. Refugees are denied access to justice due to severe administrative, legislative, practical obstacles, insufficient information and misinformation, and a lack of legal assistance. They are trapped in Greece, living lives in limbo.
To show solidarity with refugees and our Greek colleagues who represent them, our small team of lawyers set up a pro bono law clinic in April 2017 where refugees can seek free legal support for their asylum or family reunification cases. Initially relying on a grant from the Immigration Lawyers Practitioners’ Association, we have since received grants from other institutional and individual funders who enable us to continue to run the clinic.
In our experience, asylum claims are often won or lost at the initial stages where the quality of a witness statement or an understanding of the necessary evidence can make a difference between grant and refusal of refugee status. Without legal assistance, it is extremely difficult to navigate the legal maze allowing refugees to apply to be reunited with family members elsewhere in the EU.
To recognise its achievements, RLS-Athens has been awarded the Lexis Nexis Pro Bono Award 2018.
WHAT WE DO
Provide free asylum and family reunification assistance
We provide free legal support to refugees at our legal clinic.
The clinic is staffed by UK volunteer lawyers who travel to Athens on a rota basis and by our permanent team in Athens - Efi, our Coordinator who is a Greek law student from Athens. She is assisted by Ella, a UK law school graduate and volunteer, who has been managing the clinic alongside Efi. We also recently hired Iliana, a Greek asylum lawyer responsible for our casework.
We work in close partnership with SolidarityNow - a Greek NGO dedicated to supporting those most affected by the economic and humanitarian crisis in Greece. The RLS-Athens clinic is based at their Athens Solidarity Centre, a hub for civil society organisations.
We share our space with SolidarityNow’s legal team which enables a close collaboration between Greek and UK asylum lawyers; they use and share their expertise and experience of human rights law and the EU Common Asylum System.
We maintain a caseload of approximately 60 active cases (predominantly Dublin III family reunification cases). Lawyers assist refugees with the preparation of witness, country and medical evidence to support their asylum claim or family reunification application. We collaborate with grassroots organisations and community centres in Athens - including the Khora Community Centre where the clinic was initially based at and Velos Youth Delivered by RYS - to reach those refugee communities who would otherwise be left without representation.
Share UK law experiences with Greek colleagues
We are working closely with our Greek colleagues who represent refugees before courts and tribunals. We share our experiences from a mature asylum system and provide ideas for strategies on how to achieve positive outcomes for cases.
Our UK volunteer lawyers hold information sessions and workshops with Greek lawyers and non-governmental organisations to create a forum where information and knowledge can be shared about best practices across the EU Common Asylum System and key legal and policy developments on migration impacting refugees.
Foster skills development amongst refugee communities
To contribute to the integration of those we assist into the local community, we employ three refugees as interpreters so they develop transferable skills.
Since April 2017, we have been able to send out volunteer lawyers each week to Athens, where they have been working closely with adult and child refugees on their asylum claims and applications for reunion with family members elsewhere in Europe. So far, over 400 refugees have received free legal assistance from more than 50 volunteer lawyers.