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RLS-Athens legal advice clinic supported by Duncan Lewis Solicitors shortlisted for LexisNexis Pro Bono Award alongside Duncan Lewis Pro Bono Committee (24 January 2018)

Date: 24/01/2018
Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, RLS-Athens legal advice clinic supported by Duncan Lewis Solicitors shortlisted for LexisNexis Pro Bono Award alongside Duncan Lewis Pro Bono Committee

Duncan Lewis would like to congratulate The RLS-Athens Project for being shortlisted in the LexisNexis Awards 2018 Pro Bono category, alongside Duncan Lewis’ Pro Bono Committee.

The Athens Project’s pilot ran between 10th April and 28th July to assess the impact of legal advice on time scales and outcomes for asylum seekers arriving in Greece. A number of Duncan Lewis Solicitors’ specialist Immigration law practitioners took part in the pilot and went to Greece to provide their services for free. Now the hard work done as part of the Athens Project is being recognised as they are named a finalist in the Pro Bono Award category as part of the LexisNexis Legal Awards 2018.

RLS- Athens Project

The Refugee Legal Support Athens legal clinic was set up in April 2017 by a group of UK asylum and immigration lawyers, with an initial grant from the UK Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. RLS-Athens has since received grants and donations from institutions and individuals to continue the programme. The clinic is hosted in Athens by the Khora Community Centre, a humanitarian cooperative, and operates through UK lawyers volunteering their time and expertise, with the support of grant-funded local staff and volunteers.

The project was created in response to the Refugee crisis which engulfed Southern Europe in 2016. Asylum-seekers fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Eritrea and Pakistan flooded across the Mediterranean, overwhelming the asylum processing systems in Greece and Italy which struggled to absorb and control the influx. In response, many European countries closed their borders to new arrivals and the EU signed an agreement with Turkey by which an admissibility procedure would determine whether asylum seekers arriving in Greece should have their claims determined in Greece or be returned to Turkey. While this reduced the numbers of new refugees arriving in Greece, there remained tens of thousands of undocumented refugees in Greece waiting to have their claims processed.

This challenge is greater as a result of the Dublin III Regulation which stipulates that asylum claims must be made in the first country of arrival in the EU. This means that asylum claims made by refugees arriving in Greece must be processed in Greece unless those arriving have family elsewhere in the EU. It also means that asylum seekers, whose claims appear to have a good chance of success if heard in the UK, may have a reduced chance of success in Greece, due to the improving but still inadequate reception conditions, limitation on resources and sheer volume of applicants.

Many cases in Greece are won or lost at the initial stages where the quality of a witness statement or an understanding of the necessary evidence to support a claim can make the difference between success and failure. Greek lawyers do not have capacity to assist at this stage, even were funds provided for this and Greek NGOs lack either expertise or the resources to respond to demand.

The assistance of UK NGOs and lawyers went beyond providing legal assistance to the project securing funding to underwrite the costs of the project. Duncan Lewis lawyers played their part. Zofia Duszynska, Immigration Director at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, secured £10,000 from Norton Rose Fullbright to further the project while other colleagues volunteered their time at the clinic, adding invaluable language skills to quality asylum advice and case preparation.

Zofia says,

‘Having spent time in Calais and seen the despair of so many asylum-seekers unable to move forward with claims for international protection, it was important as asylum specialists to offer our expertise to assist people to achieve a quicker and safer solution at the immediate point of need.’

Trainee solicitors Marios Kontos and Elena Georgiou’s fluency in Greek enabled them to translate asylum documents when assisting claimants, while Sondos Arafa, trainee Immigration solicitor at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, as an Arabic speaker, was able to communicate directly with Syrian refugees facilitating their communication of their claims. Sondos recounted her experience in Greece as part of the Athens Project in this article, where she explains how she provided essential advice and support to a number of asylum seekers preparing for their asylum interviews.

The project is entering a new stage and currently seeking charitable status to enable it to continue on a more formalised basis.

LexisNexis Legal Awards

The LexisNexis Legal Awards celebrate legal successes and innovation across all departments of law, with this year’s Awards set to take place as part of LexisNexis’ 200th anniversary. Amongst the many Awards given out, LexisNexis recognise the essential pro bono work done by pioneers in the legal industry, of which the RLS Athens Project and Duncan Lewis Solicitors’ Pro Bono committee, chaired by Duncan Lewis Family and Childcare Director Emine Mehmet, have both been shortlisted in for the LexisNexis 2018 Legal Awards 2018.

This will be the 5th year that the awards take place, with an increasingly impressive standard of entrants making waves in the legal world. Duncan Lewis congratulates the RLS-Athens Project and the other finalists and looks forward to celebrating the successes and achievements at the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane on 15th March 2018.

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