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Lawyers join forces to help refugees’ ‘impossible situation’

Lawyers join forces to help refugees’ ‘impossible situation’

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Two NSW-based service providers are partnering to assist those seeking asylum to navigate what they describe as impossible process, which the Australian government expects refugee applicants to work through alone.

A new initiative has been designed to provide legal, financial and casework support to people seeking refugee status in Australia.

The Justice for Refugees program was launched last week, with the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) and the St Vincent de Paul Society in NSW partnering to lend a hand. Together, the groups said they believed they could give refugees a stronger voice.

Vinnies NSW CEO Jack de Groot said that a combination of service funding cuts and the way that the law has changed over the years has led to a difficult system, which is impossible for individuals to navigate.  

“Successive changes to the Migration Act along with cuts to legal and translation support services have left us with an unjust system for those seeking refuge and safety in Australia,” Mr de Groot said.

“It is impossible for people who are seeking asylum to navigate this legal process on their own,” he said.

According to a statement issued by the groups, part of the program relies on a network of barristers and law firms for advice and applications for judicial review.

Where there is a prospect of success, the program offers representation to asylum seekers in the Federal Circuit Court on either a pro bono or no win, no fee basis.

Mr de Groot explained that both RACS and Vinnies considered the punitive policy towards seeking asylum adopted by the government, which was preventing people from access to a fair process. He added that this also acted as a barrier for meeting basic human needs.

“Many of the people seeking our help are left in limbo until their immigration status is sorted and, in the meantime, survive only because of family, friends and community support,” Mr de Groot said.

As part of the program, RACS has dedicated lawyers giving judicial review referral assistance to people who have had a negative Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA) decision or a Department of Immigration decision refusing to grant them a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV), and excluding them from review in the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA).

Program participants are also offered assistance from Vinnies with support for financial and casework support. This service is intended to ensure asylum seekers can meet daily needs and dignity until such time as their immigration status is confirmed.

“The type of support Vinnies is providing people going through the judicial review process is much needed. RACS’ lawyers are relieved to know that people who are facing their last chance at justice will be fed and housed when they are at their most vulnerable,” RACS executive director Tanya Jackson-Vaughan said. 

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