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Legal Aid: some good news for refugees and asylum seekers

The Justice Minister has accepted arguments by the Law Centre and the Refugee and Asylum Forum that immigration advice and family reunion must be kept within the scope of Legal Aid. More information here.

This is good news as refugees and asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable in our society. Asylum seekers and those who are appealing asylum refusals are not allowed to work and therefore are unable to build up any savings to pay for legal fees.

Glenn Jordan, Director of Law Centre (NI), said:  “We are particularly pleased to hear that the Minister has dropped his proposal to remove legal aid for refugees who seek to be reunited with their families. 

Many refugees are understandably worried about families left back home in dangerous situations or in unsustainable refugee camps, and bringing them to a place of safety is often their first priority.

We know that funding family reunion through the legal aid budget is much cheaper than the additional court cases that would be generated through lack of appropriate legal advice. More importantly, assisting in family reunion is a fundamental social justice issue which can impact positively on the welfare and mental health of often destitute refugees.

The Law Centre and our partners in the Refugee and Asylum Forum have been pressing the Minister on this issue and other concerns regarding the impact of proposed changes to legal aid on some of the most vulnerable groups in society.” 

The Law Centre’s response to the Department of Justice review of Legal Aid can be found here.

Our preferred position is that DoJ does not remove employment, immigration or social security from the scope of civil legal aid.  If DoJ does proceed with proposals to cut legal aid from any of these areas then:

  • DOJ must recognise that advice organisations rely on Green Form to fund interpreters and expert reports. Additional funding will need to be made available;
  • a system for applying for funding on an exceptional basis needs to be devised.
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