(c) Sarah Booker
While volunteering in Calais in 2017 I came to understand that many, having entered Europe through southern states, had undertaken long and perilous journeys, only to be greeted in the north with violence and a complete lack of legal avenues for a safe and valuable life. It was clear to me then, and still is now, that this denial is hugely problematic and that more must be done to protect the legal rights of asylum seekers and refugees.
So, in the beginning of 2018 I arrived in Athens to volunteer with Refugee Legal Support. RLS’ work is essential, exceptional, and utterly life changing. Our work can mean the difference between families being reunited or permanently separated.
The context that RLS is working in cannot be ignored. People live in incredibly dangerous living conditions in Greece with a large portion of asylum seekers and refugees being homeless. Even those that are housed are evicted three months on from when they receive refugee status which is resulting in more homelessness in Greece. Therefore, family reunification is not only a chance for loved ones to be reunited, but is an opportunity for people to escape a country that has made it clear that refugees are not welcome.
For the last year and a half, I have witnessed the team’s persistence in the face of unrelenting rejections to family reunification requests from northern European states. With nearly every family reunification case being won at the reconsideration request stage (so after one or multiple rejections) it became increasingly clear that RLS’ work is essential. The ugly truth is that without legal representation people’s right to family reunification simply will not be realised. This is concerning when it is understood that a large amount of people in Greece are unrepresented when they make these applications.
For example, the case of ‘Jimmy’ an unaccompanied minor from Pakistan who arrived in Greece in the beginning of 2017 without documents or support networks. He had been told about RLS and came to us for help. Our team assisted him from the very beginning; from the registration of his asylum claim, to the lodging of his application for family reunification with his uncle in Germany. 16 months later, after the German authorities refused his request to join his uncle three times, he is now finally in Germany with his family. RLS never gave up on this application, we made four substantive applications which brought the desired outcome in the end. The resilience and continuity of Jimmy and the team were key in this case.
RLS truly provides a first-class legal service in a landscape where there is a dearth of this provision and our work is only enhanced through our partnerships. A partnership I am particularly proud to have been a part of is with Velos, a youth centre here in Athens. Once a week, RLS attends the centre offering one to one legal assessments and advise for the young people. During this time, we have the space and time to go through the complex and confusing asylum system with young people, ensuring they fully understand everything discussed. This may take multiple sessions over various weeks but is essential to the young peoples’ feeling of ownership over their lives and allows them to make informed decisions. Since we began we have held over one hundred individual assessments, taken on seven cases as RLS clients and secured two acceptances for family reunification, with both boys now being safely with their siblings in Germany.
These acceptances did not come easily, each case was rejected one time before they were accepted. These eventual acceptances would not have happened if these minor boys were unrepresented. It is therefore essential that RLS continue providing these moments, secure life changing decisions and advocate for refugee rights at this critical juncture in time where human rights hang in the balance.
To donate go to: https://www.refugeelegalsupport.org/donate