Safe Passage and RLS launch Afghan Pro Bono Initiative to support Afghan refugees
Safe Passage International and Refugee Legal Support launch Afghan Pro Bono Initiative to support Afghan refugees
9th March 2022 – Refugee Legal Support (RLS) and Safe Passage International, in collaboration with 14 leading law firms, are launching one of the most ambitious pro bono partnerships to date, the Afghan Pro Bono Initiative.
This new initiative will offer pro bono legal representation to Afghan refugees, who need legal advice and support more than ever. Up to 150,000 people applied for evacuation as the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last summer, but it’s thought that less than 5% of those received any legal assistance.
In the six months since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, RLS and Safe Passage have been inundated with hundreds of enquiries from people desperately in need of legal advice, support, and representation as they try to find safe routes to sanctuary and reunite with family members in the UK.
However, with capacity in the legal aid sector critically low, it is often extremely difficult to access immigration advice. With those in Afghanistan urgently seeking a safe route to sanctuary, being able to access the right legal advice at the right time to navigate the often slow government processes can be a matter of life and death. Adults seeking to reunite with loved ones in the UK can also face major challenges in accessing representation as their applications for family reunification remain out of scope for legal aid in England and Wales. This leaves men, women and children trapped and fearing for their lives in Afghanistan, even though there should be safe routes available to them.
The Afghan Pro Bono Initiative aims to help meet those challenges by providing pro bono legal advice and representation. This project will help people apply to be reunited with their family in the UK and access the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, as well as providing information on the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.
The Afghan Pro Bono Initiative will dedicate significant resources on engaging with the affected communities across the UK. Reaching out to Afghan community groups is at the heart of the project’s operations and their information and advice needs are central in delivering the project throughout. The relevant planned activities aim to disseminate legal and practical information that is useful to them in their preferred language.
Efi Stathopoulou, Programmes Manager of Refugee Legal Support, said: “The human consequences of the collapse of the Afghan government will be long-term. We hope that the events in Afghanistan will see the Government reassess its Nationality and Borders Bill, and open safe routes, reunite families and protect refugees' rights. We are very excited to be launching the Afghan Pro Bono Initiative with Safe Passage International and our partners as it is certain that high quality legal advice will remain critically needed in the foreseeable future.”
Jennine Walker, Head of UK Legal & Arrivals at Safe Passage International, said: “We must not turn our backs on Afghan people in their time of need, which is why we’re committed to doing all we can to support those fleeing the Taliban to find safe routes to sanctuary. We’re proud to be launching the Afghan Pro Bono Initiative with RLS and our legal partners. Through this work, we hope that more Afghan people will be able to access life-changing legal advice, to reunite with their loved ones, and have the opportunity to rebuild their lives safe in our communities.”
Drawing on the experiences of Afghans trying to find a safe route to the UK through this new initiative, RLS and Safe Passage will ramp up their campaign for the UK Government to open more safe routes and make existing safe routes such as refugee family reunion and resettlement schemes more accessible and effective. Through the Afghan Pro Bono Initiative, RLS and Safe Passage will also identify gaps in legal aid provision, and advocate for more publicly funded legal aid.
The Afghan Pro Bono Initiative will see volunteers from 14 leading law firms deliver pro bono advice, trained and supervised by two specialist immigration lawyers and supported by an experienced project coordinator. The community engagement and research element of the project will be led by an expert social researcher and data analyst who is an Afghan refugee living in the UK.
To refer a case to the project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with details of the case. If you have a general query about the project, reach out to the project coordinator at email@example.com .
The 14 law firms involved in the Initiative are Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Clyde & Co, Debevoise & Plimpton, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Eversheds Sutherland, Hogan Lovells, Mayer Brown, Orrick, Reed Smith, Ropes & Gray, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (UK) LLP.
Notes to editors
● Refugee Legal Support works in solidarity with people who migrate. RLS is a charity run by frontline asylum lawyers and activists who assist displaced people with casework, legal support, outreach and information sharing in Europe and the UK.
● Safe Passage International is a charity that helps refugees access safe routes to asylum. They champion refugees’ right to safe passage through strategic legal work, campaigning and advocacy.