A few months ago a group of UK volunteer immigration lawyers, together with the support of ILPA (Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association) set up the Athens Legal Support Project, a 4 month pilot to run from 10 April through to July 2017 to provide legal advice and support to refugees and Greek lawyers in Athens. A few weeks ago we launched our JustGiving page https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Athenslegalsupportpilotproject and have had the most incredible response and support. In the last 3 weeks alone we have raised over half our target already.
Our first volunteers, Julia Lowis and Jo Bezzano, have just returned from Athens, and with our first blog. Please continue to support us. It has made such a difference and our huge thanks to those who have already so kindly donated.
Further donations can be made here:
‘We had a busy and varied start to the pilot, seeing refugees in the Khora Community Centre, Lavrio and Ritsona refugee camps, squats in Athens, and providing accompaniment to Katihaki (where the Greek Asylum Service is based). The visits to Lavrio and Ritsona were made possible by Sarah and Beatrice from the InfoBus, part of Help Refugees who were previously in the Calais Jungle. They are doing great work visiting camps around Athens and now on the islands, making sure refugees receive basic information about their rights and claims, since those in camps otherwise have very little access to any legal support or information.
A large number of individuals we saw are pursuing claims for family reunification or reunion, especially in Germany. There is a great disparity in the ways different countries apply policies on family reunion, and it seems that Germany is particularly strict, in respect of both the qualifying criteria and evidential requirements. A Syrian family had been refused family reunion on the basis that they were required to prove their family relationship by having their documents certified by the Syrian authorities, yet it is difficult to see how those recognised as refugees will ever be able to fulfil such a requirement!
One of the key tasks we undertook was also training for interpreters, predominantly refugees themselves. They are committed to the job and learning quickly, and we have been able to pay them for this crucial role as a result of the generous donations received through our justgiving site.
We have also been struck by the clear unfairness of the European policy towards the crisis, leaving two of the poorest European countries (Greece and Italy) with the burden of accommodating hundreds of thousands of refugees. For a country which has been struggling with its own economic crisis for many years Greece has clearly been hit hard, not least in respect of its tourism trade. Although there is a strong activist community, this largely consists of overseas volunteers.
Our UK volunteer lawyers have now arrived in Athens. They will be continuing to build links with other organisations and individuals active in Greece and looking for opportunities to develop this support project not only through the duration of the pilot but further into the future. We really appreciate the continued support to help make this project a success.’