With a significant grant, Melbourne juris doctor students will have the opportunity to develop practical legal skills while directly assisting in the delivery of essential services to stateless children in their applications for Australian citizenship.
In a partnership between the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness, the Refugee Advice Casework Service (RACS), and the Melbourne Law School, the first-of-its-kind and ground-breaking Stateless Children Legal Clinic has been extended beyond its March 2021 pilot into a five-year program due in large part to a major grant.
The clinic offers juris doctor students at Melbourne Law School the chance to work alongside experts in the field to deliver essential legal services to stateless people and their children. RACS director and principal solicitor Sarah Dale told Lawyers Weekly in May that it is an experience unlike any found in placements at law firms.
“The benefits of what you can get out of programs like this are two-fold,” Ms Dale said. “Firstly, our clients are able to access assistance but secondly, students can get that hands-on experience in running legal matters and working with clients.”
An estimated 10 to 15 million people – a third of which are children – around the world are stateless, meaning that they are not recognised as a citizen of any country in the world. Without nationality, stateless children face many barriers in accessing education and healthcare and, in Australia, they face the additional threat of prolonged immigration detention and removal to a third country.
The funding for the clinic comes from the Cameron Foundation and is named after Hiam Chalouhy, the mother of stateless person Fadi Chalouhy who now resides in Australia. Mr Chalouhy was the first stateless person to be granted an Australian skilled migrant visa through the Talent Beyond Boundaries program.
“For 25 years my mother and I struggled to find answers or even understand what statelessness is and how I fight it,” Mr Chalouhy said. “This clinic will give every mother and child currently in this situation a fighting chance.”
Stateless Children Legal Clinic’s coordinator Katie Robertson said the clinic will provide critical support for these people, including the refugees Australia owes.
“The precarious legal status of stateless children in Australia means their chance to grow and develop as individuals is overshadowed by a perpetual sense of uncertainty. This clinic provides them with critical assistance in their applications for Australian citizenship, with potentially life-changing results,” Ms Robertson said.
Ms Dale added that the partnership model with Melbourne Law School allowed the clinic’s services to be expanded.
“This clinic has enabled us to connect with families who may never have been able to access citizenship for their children without legal support. The process often has implications for other family members, and so it’s essential we can assist families navigating different legal statuses in Australia,” Ms Dale said.
“For those who have been stateless for generations, finding out their children may not be eligible for citizenship is life-changing.”