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World Refugee Day 2023

World Refugee Day takes place each year on 20 June, and we at Charles Russell Speechlys are looking forward to marking the occasion again this year. World Refugee Day was first established in 2001, to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and it provides a day of celebration for the important contributions that refugees make and encourages all of us to reflect on their strength and courage.

This day provides a further opportunity for firms like ours to reflect on our contribution to improving the legal rights and status of refugees.

We are honoured to be one of the six London law firms in the Greece Pro Bono Collaborative, which sends legal secondees to European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL). ELIL is a charity which provides free, independent legal assistance to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece and, more recently, Poland. Asylum seeker applicants get only one chance to explain why their asylum status is well-founded, and their answers determine whether or not they will be given asylum status in that country. The charity prepares applicants for their interview with the government asylum service.

It was estimated that in 2019 almost 75,000 people, many of them unaccompanied minors, sought international protection in Greece after making the dangerous journey in search of safety. Since 2016, ELIL has assisted over 17,000 asylum seekers. Without any assistance, an applicant has a 31% chance of being granted asylum. In comparison, an astonishing 70.3% of those assisted by ELIL have been granted asylum. The alternative is bleak, with refugees being faced with return to an unsafe country or living in a legal limbo, without the correct status to enable them to access employment, education or healthcare.

A refugee is defined as someone who has been forced to flee their country of origin because of persecution, war or violence.  However, having had a unique insight into the experience of a refugee, it is the view of our secondees that a refugee cannot be understood by this definition alone. The powerful and moving experiences of three of our secondees can be found here: Sarah Higgins, Kayleigh McKee, Mary Barrett. Sarah Higgins, Partner in our Family team, reflects: “I heard the stories of asylum seekers, particularly women and children, who had suffered unimaginable horrors and who were not given the legal and police protection or medical care we can take for granted because they were born somewhere where human rights are not honoured. It takes enormous courage for a refugee – some of whom were unaccompanied minors – to undertake a perilous journey to an unfamiliar country”.

At the end of 2022, more than 100 million people were forcibly displaced globally – a record number propelled by the war in Ukraine and other conflicts around the world and an increase of 10.7 million people from the previous year according to the UN Refugee Agency.

The massive increase in demand for ELIL’s help over the past couple of years demonstrates the sobering reality that the displacement crisis remains one of the biggest human rights issues facing Europe and the world today. We are proud to be involved with ELIL and to recognise, acknowledge and celebrate World Refugee Day, by paying tribute to the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country. With our support, together with the other firms that make up the Greece Pro Bono Collaborative (Dentons, White & Case LLP, Allen & Overy, Ashurst and Orrick, and Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP), ELIL can reach more asylum seekers and enable more people to receive protection. We encourage everyone, colleagues, clients and others to take the opportunity on this day to understand the plight of others and recognise their resilience in rebuilding their lives.

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