Training for Pro Bono Legal Representatives

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Pro Bono Legal Representatives in a Training Session

An asylum-seeker is someone who claims international protection as a refugee after leaving his or her home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution. In order to be granted international protection as refugee the asylum seeker has to prove that there is a reasonable possibility the suffering he or she is afraid of will happen to her or him upon return to their country in a process called Refugee Status Determination (RSD). This process aims to establish if an asylum seeker fulfills the criteria of the ‘refugee’ definition outlined in the United Nations Refugee Convention from 1951 and its protocol from 1967.

In the Indonesian context an eligibility officer from UNHCR will collect all the information provided by the asylum seeker and make a decision on whether this person needs international protection or not. The burden to prove that there is a real threat awaiting the asylum seeker if returning to his home country lies with the asylum seeker themself. He or she has to prove that her or his fear is real and justified. Not every asylum seeker has the capability to make a good written or oral statement supported by objective evidence and information. Sometimes asylum seekers do not really understand the criteria or procedures. There are language barriers, nervousness, trauma or shame about what happened in the past that make it difficult to tell what really goes on back home. In some cases this inability leads to a rejection of the asylum claim and the possibility to return to sometimes life threatening danger.

In order to ensure the threat to an individual asylum seeker is looked at properly the assistance of a trained legal adviser can be very important. This assistance can include information on criteria and processes, clarifying what has happened that led to the fear to return, writing a legal brief including recommendations to why this person needs protection and providing objective information on the situation in the country of origin of the asylum seeker.

Since 2010 UNHCR Indonesia started to welcome legal advice for asylum seekers, but unfortunately even nowadays the number of lawyers or paralegals able to provide quality legal advice are limited especially those willing to give free Pro Bono services. The role of legal advice is to enable the asylum seeker to make a truthful and detailed claim and so enable UNHCR to make the right decision according to UNHCR guidelines.

Being aware about the lack of Pro Bono legal representatives for asylum seekers, JRS Indonesia took initiative to hold training for lawyers on refugee law and the UNHCR RSD process. The “Training on Refugee Status Determination Process for Asylum Seeker’s Pro Bono Legal Representatives” was held between 25th and 27th June 2012 in Jakarta. This training was attended by 16 participants from different organizations such as Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia (Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation), Lembaga Bantuan Hukum (Legal Aid foundation) Jakarta, Surabaya, and Pekanbaru, Human Rights Working Group, Mahkota Foundation Medan and some independent lawyers. We are lucky to be able to invite Nikola Errington an experienced legal officer from JRS Cambodia as trainer who could share her knowledge and best practices on how to assist asylum seekers during their asylum applications.

The aim of this training was to broaden, deepen and strengthen skills and knowledge of new and old members of Indonesia’s Pro Bono Legal Representative network. The training included knowledge on refugee law and ethics outlined in international instruments like the convention definition of refugees, the Nairobi Code and the Indonesia Bar Code. Skills on how to provide legal advice were practiced in role-plays, collecting testimonies, drafting of legal submissions and practice on conduct when attending an RSD Interview as legal representative. The training reaffirmed the commitment of the participants to provide advice and services for free and outlined next steps to be undertaken as a network. After the training the network has drafted procedures and guidelines for efficient and effective quality support to asylum seekers. It has also given itself a name, SUAKA, which in Indonesian language means ‘Asylum’.

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