Nicola Braganza reflects on the Refugee Legal Support project seven months on and the kindness of strangers in the November issue of Legal Action Magazine. Nicola is a barrister at Garden Court Chambers and RLS volunteer.
It has been amazing. We started as a pilot project with funding from the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and donations via crowdfunding, and set up a legal clinic in Athens to run from April until July this year. Our aim was to provide refugees there with legal advice and support. Thanks to the overwhelming kindness of strangers, friends and colleagues, by the end of July, we were able to extend the project to the end of November, and now we are able to commit to a further phase, looking for volunteers to the end of April 2018.
So far, we have had over 40 UK immigration lawyers give their time, expertise and experience, flying out to Athens to work with legal support volunteers on the ground in the legal clinic hosted by a community centre. Our funding goes towards providing basic accommodation for our volunteers, and paying for our interpreters (who are refugees themselves) and two coordinators at the clinic. We provide training to volunteers and interpreters too.
We have seen over 270 clients and assisted with over 90 Dublin III family reunification applications. This is in addition to many family reunion applications across the EU and asylum applications in Greece. At the time of writing, we had our most recent grant of refugee status the previous week. We have seen families physically reunited, while others are currently awaiting their flight details.
Our Facebook page tells the story of Somaia who, with her seven-year-old son (both are Palestinians from Syria), will soon be able to join family members in Norway. They fled Syria in 2016.
We have had a smaller group of incredibly committed and hard-working lawyers help run the project from the UK - and others who have physically run for the project (in a half marathon!), their combined efforts raising some £1,700.
Joining the army of goodwill, we have had UK lawyers provide support to those in Athens as and when needed, also assisting and supporting us with our applications for funding and advising on how to build on what we have achieved so far. We have had others, nonlawyers, give their time and skills with designs, building our social media platforms and even our website. The list is long and humbling.
We have built links with lawyers and NGOs in Greece and continue to do so. It has been a steep learning curve but also incredibly inspiring to see what can be done when people come together.
The situation for those in Greece remains desperate; most recently, a number of camps on the islands have closed, with huge numbers of refugees, many with families, being transferred to the mainland with many of their files disappearing in transit. The need for legal assistance is as great as ever.
So, an enormous thank you to you all. If you are able to help, please get in touch with our UK co-ordinator: email@example.com. If you would like to donate to the project, you can do so on https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/refugeelegalsupport. Until the next update, thank you again.