Posted by: divyaroy77 | February 7, 2012

Lawyers for Human Rights Part II

By Sandra Murray and Divya Roy, Global Interns at Lawyers for Human Rights, Durban

We are now a couple of weeks into our placement at Lawyers for Human Rights and though our internship is only 6 weeks long, we have been involved in such a wide variety of work!

During our first week we assisted with client intake which was a great way to familiarise ourselves with the legal process for refugee claims and start meeting with clients. From 8.30am until 12.45pm Monday to Thursday, LHR runs a drop-in legal clinic for asylum seekers and refugees seeking advice. Our role was to screen the clients by obtaining their personal details and an overview of their legal issue. The matters we dealt with were diverse, so the work that we undertook varied from client to client.

One common issue was that many clients lacked the identification documents required to apply for asylum seeker permits. We were able to assist by writing affidavits for them to take to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to support their application. This simple document often meant the difference between a person being an illegal alien in South Africa in fear of deportation, to being a documented asylum seeker with the right to work and study whilst applying for refugee status.

Another common issue was that many clients feared going to DHA to renew their asylum seeker permit while they were waiting for the outcome of their final appeal to the Refugee Appeals Board. This was because Immigration officials at the Department would immediately arrest those asylum seekers whose appeal had been rejected. Once arrested the client could be detained for a number of months before being deported to their country of origin. There is no obligation to release the client back into the community before their deportation to settle their affairs. This presents a number of issues for clients who have families, jobs, bank accounts, leases and study commitments. While grossly unfair, especially for clients who have been in South Africa for a number of years and have strong ties to the country, this is legal. We often found ourselves liaising between detention centres, Immigration officials and the International Office of Migration in attempt to obtain the release of our clients and secure their voluntary repatriation to their country of origin. Fortunately some asylum seekers would obtain advice from us prior to collecting their appeal decision which gave us the opportunity to prepare them should they be arrested (which unfortunately was a frequent occurrence). We explained the processes concerning detention and deportation and encouraged clients to bring evidence of their ties to South Africa to DHA in order to strengthen their case for being released into the community before their deportation to settle their affairs.

Other work that we were involved with in the first week included sitting in on client interviews, drafting grounds of appeal for our clients and attending staff meetings. The attorneys at LHR are very welcoming of new ideas (even from us interns!) and therefore the staff meetings are more akin to a collaboration and discussion of the current issues experienced by clients and the approach to be taken to individual cases.

Later this week we will post about the work we have been doing during the second and third week of our placement in assisting the attorneys with their case work.

By Sandra Murray and Divya Roy

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