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Refugee Legal - helping displaced people to rebuild their lives in Australia

For more than 30 years, Refugee Legal has been at the forefront of defending the rights, dignity and the lives of asylum seekers, refugees and disadvantaged migrants.

The service is dedicated to this life-saving work that enables displaced people to rebuild their lives here in Australia and is committed to providing an enduring solution for refugees and people seeking asylum.

Thousands of displaced people have sought safety in Australia because of an unprecedented global humanitarian crisis. Last year alone, Refugee Legal provided more than 13,000 client appointments (including limited assistance and ongoing representation) across all of our various services, to people who would not otherwise have been able to access help on often life-threatening matters. 

This work with clients  is the foundation of Refugee Legal’s essential and ongoing advocacy to ensure that Australia’s migration and refugee programs operate in a just, fair, ethical and humane manner. 

In 2015, the Federal Government  introduced its ‘Fast Track’ Assessment process. This process was introduced by the Federal Government to deal with the cases of 31,000 people who had arrived by boat and were seeking asylum in Australia.  It also ceased funding free legal assistance for these people.

Faced with this perfect storm of unprecedented  demand from the thousands of people affected, unprecedented erosion of their rights and unprecedented removal of government funding, Refugee Legal developed its innovative Legal Clinic model.  

The model provides essential legal advice and assistance to people lodging  their protection visa applications, assistance with the processing of their claims and assistance at the  review stage under the Fast Track process.  The model involves  around 550 volunteer lawyers pitching in to help, including  many from 15 major law firm partners who release their employee lawyers to work pro bono as part of the firm’s commitment to access to justice.

The model has successfully taken the goodwill of the private sector and transformed it into tangible assistance for people in need; it  harnesses the generalist legal skillset and adapts it to enable a specialist immigration legal assistance capability. It has meant that Refugee Legal has been able to scale-up services and realign resources at relatively short notice.  Last year the Legal Clinic alone provided almost 3000 client appointments.

It is a model that has seen Refugee Legal recognised on the world stage; first, as a finalist in The Financial Times Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers awards 2017 and, more recently, with an invitation to Geneva in December 2019 to showcase the model at the UNHCR Global Refugee Forum as an example of international best practice.

Experience and innovation have enabled more people to be assisted more quickly to lodge their protection applications, to have assistance with the processing of their claims and legal advice and support at the review stage. Because the Government will only grant a three-year or five-year temporary visa, the service is now assisting clients to re-apply for a further protection visa. 

Refugee Legal continues to assist many thousands of people in Australia who still need help in an extremely confusing and complex process. They include people with all types of protection visa applications, women in vulnerable migration situations desperately seeking help for themselves and their children, advice and assistance to people in a range of family matters as well as assistance with citizenship matters. 

Recently, the service worked with supporting partners to assist over 200 critically ill people on Nauru and in PNG to apply for urgent evacuation. Many of these people are now in Australia, in safety, finally receiving the treatment they had previously been denied.

While doing direct client work, Refugee Legal continues to challenge systemic injustices  through strategic approaches, including High Court test case litigation, policy and advocacy work.

Note: The service has been supported by trusts managed by Equity Trustees.