THEMATIC FOCUS 2017: REFUGEE LAW CLINICS

One of the projects within the Legal Dialogue Programme for 2017 involved Refugee Law Clinics (RLC). Its aim was to engage legal clinics in working on the field of migration and create synergies with NGOs. Migrants, especially refugees, have little to no access to legal protection. Not only is the prevailing legal reality stacked against them, knowledge, understanding, and use of their few rights (especially in financially and socially deprived contexts) is virtually impossible. Legal clinics can provide low-cost, efficient support and relief.

The target group of legal clinics have regularly been vulnerable groups or the financially disadvantaged. Legal clinics all over Europe, however, are just starting to recognise migrants and refugees as a viable focus. Another key actor for working with migrants and refugees are NGOs. What both have been lacking is a sense of working together. Where legal clinics can offer case specific and individual legal support, NGOs can provide expertise and infrastructure. Together they can expand their outreach and support one another for mutual benefit. Which in turn benefits migrants and refugees.

The goal of the project was the development and implementation of information material for legal clinics with an emphasis on migration. The programme was aimed to allow existing legal clinics to shift to or introduce migration and refugee law into their practice, while also allowing experienced NGOs implement clinical work within their field of work.

SURVEY PRESENTATION

  12 October 2017, Moscow

On October 12th, 2017, results of the all-Russian survey on potentials for more intensive work with migrants and refugees in Russian law clinics conducted by CSF (see below) were presented as part of the VIII All-Russian Legal Clinics Conference in Moscow organised by the Centre for Development of Legal Clinics at the Moscow State University.

Close to 150 participants and representatives of more than 50 legal clinics from all over Russia took part in the conference. One of the focal points of this year’s conference were the legal issues which are faced by migrants and/or refugees and the potential of legal clinics to function as support centres for migrants and refugees residing in Russia. The event was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and others.

Madina Chedzhemova, legal consultant for the UNHCR Russia, explained the complexity of the selected topic. According to her, legal clinics have big potential to help this disadvantaged group of people with wide range of issues and problems through sharing important and relevant information among migrants, supplying knowledge regarding the rights they have, preparing necessary documents for various state authorities and much more.

At the same time, however, there are many difficulties and challenges which hinder the development and promotion of this type of work, even when the legal clinics show good will and readiness to take the necessary steps. Some of the main difficulties include lack of specific knowledge among the legal clinic staff and many practical problems such as restricted access to the universities and higher education institutions where the clinics are located, shortage of translators and even obligation to report some “clients” to security authorities.

In this regard, the CSF study provided a well-structured basis for further discussions and brainstorming. The main outcomes of the survey were presented and debated during a special session of the conference. All conference participants were provided with a hard copy of the analysis.

ALL-RUSSIAN SURVEY ON POTENTIALS FOR MORE INTENSIVE WORK WITH MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES IN RUSSIAN LAW CLINICS CONDUCTED BY CSF

One of the outcomes of the working meeting in Moscow in April 2017 was the observed lack of a systematic analysis of existing potentials for more intensive work with migrants and refugees in Russian legal clinics. This is how the idea of conducting a survey about the interest, capabilities, existing problems and best practices in this working field was born.

In June-July 2017, a large scale investigation was initiated and conducted by CSF. 67 legal clinics from 25 Russian regions took part in the online survey, answering questions about their experience in working with refugees and/or migrants, existing or failing resources for providing legal assistance for this vulnerable group (equipment, specific knowledge, translators, etc.), as well as general interest in further development of such services and cooperation with other legal clinics or NGOs active in this field.

It is the first time that such a study was conducted and the results are quite diverse. 40% of survey participants stated their general interest in working with the vulnerable group of refugees and/or migrants. 58% indicated experience in legal assistance for refugees and/or migrants at their legal clinics, which was mostly rated as “generally positive”. However, these are mostly particular cases. Only very few clinics work with refugees and/or migrants on a regular basis.

The reasons for this observation can be quite diverse: different immigrant proportions in different regions, non-existing statistics and varying general capacities in different legal clinics, etc. Most clinics mentioned the need for specialised teaching material, translators, experts and tutorials for curators in order to offer qualified legal assistance for refugees and/or migrants. At the same time, good practices and positive experiences exist in a number of clinics and there is a huge interest in exchange of know-how with other clinics in Russia and/or other countries, as well as with NGOs active in the field.

The main outcomes of the survey were presented on October 12th, 2017, during a special session at the VIII All-Russian Legal Clinics Conference in Moscow (see above).

INTERNATIONAL SUMMER SCHOOL "FUTURE LAWYERS: ESSENTIAL SKILLS TO SUCCESS"

  28-29 August 2017, Kaliningrad, Russia

On August 28-29, 2017, within the framework of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum “Legal Dialogue Programme”, three experts took part in the International Summer School “Future Lawyers: Essential Skills to Success” at the Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad. The summer school was held for the sixth time and consisted of a number of courses that aimed to develop practical and communicative skills of the law students. The school’s lecturers are professors from leading European, Russian and US universities. Over the course of ten days, students from different regions of Russia studied intensively by attending interactive lectures and seminars as well as participating in various legal activities such as role playing, negotiation training, and so on.

At the initiative of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, this year was the first time when a block of seminars on international law and practical work with refugees and migrants was introduced to the school’s programme. According to Ekaterina Osipova, PhD in Law, director of the International Summer School, as well as director of the law clinic at the I. Kant BFU, “as a rule, there are no specialised courses on legal regulation of refugee status and skills required for work with them at the Russian universities. At the same time, refugees are in a poor financial state when bringing their legal needs to law clinics in the different regions of our country. Thus, we can see that it is necessary to familiarise students with the legal basis of refugee protection and to emphasise the need for lawyers in this field”. Experts from the EU-Russia Legal Dialogue Programme Christoph König, Alina Aflecailor, and Elena Burtina presented to the students a comprehensive overview of the international legal framework on refugee protection, the main skills of intercultural communication, as well as the legal basis of and institutions working on refugee protection in Russia, and the role of NGOs in work with refugees.

  Read more about the summer school here.

ROUND TABLE "RAISING RESPONSIBLE LAWYERS IN GERMANY AND RUSSIA"

  2 July 2017, Berlin, Germany

On 20 July 2017, the Round Table “Raising Responsible Lawyers in Germany and Russia” took place at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, jointly organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Moscow Centre of Development of Legal Clinics (CODOLC), with the support of the Legal Dialogue Programme of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

Russian legal clinics’ representatives from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod met representatives of German legal clinics and other providers of pro bono legal advice services, led by students, civil society actors and practicing lawyers from Berlin. The discussion focused on the relevance of legal clinics for raising lawyers in Russia and Germany, the potential of international cooperation between NGOs and legal clinics, and its potential synergy for socially disadvantaged groups.

The participants of the round table agreed that legal clinics are of great benefit – not only for practical training in legal education and legal assistance for socially disadvantaged groups, but also in view of their contribution to the public discourse. For example, through awareness-raising activities. Professor Galina Ambrosimova from the Lomonosov Moscow State University added that legal clinics also contribute to a better understanding of “real life” by law students, giving them an insight into initially unknown social milieus, and thus increasing general tolerance.

However, the potential for cooperation with other actors, such as NGOs, has yet to be accomplished in either country. One of the reasons is that NGOs shy away from investing time and efforts needed to prepare the students for competent consulting; like many others, they look for a favourable staff immediately, as Christoph König from the Refugee Law Clinic Berlin e.V. explained.

REFUGEE LAW CLINICS PROJECT: KICK-OFF WORKSHOP IN MOSCOW

  24-25 April 2017, Moscow, Russia

On 24-25 April 2017, 14 experts providing legal aid to migrants and refugees in Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, and Russia gathered at the Centre of Development of Legal Clinics to discuss the potentials of cooperation between legal clinics and NGOs working in this field in Russia.

The main idea of this project of the Forum’s Legal Dialogue Programme is to actively involve law students in practical work with migrants and refugees through strengthening the capacities of existing (specialised) legal clinics and developing additional cooperation formats between legal clinics and NGOs. Together, they can extend their outreach and support each another for mutual benefit: Whereas legal clinics could offer case specific and individual legal support, NGOs could provide expertise and infrastructure, which in turn is to the benefit of migrants and refugees.

The meeting gave an overview of the issues faced by both legal clinics and NGOs in Russia. On the other hand, it unveiled various discrepancies in the field of migration and asylum that are shared in the EU and Russia. This exchange opportunity was perceived as useful by participants from both sides.

It was a very interesting meeting from different perspectives. It gave us a closer look at the world of legal clinics and the situation of migrants and refugees in Russia. It is remarkable, how strong the legal clinics movement already is in Russia, but also surprising that, different to most other countries, in the field of migration and asylum, there is not much interaction going on at the universities. It would be great to continue our work in this direction and strengthen the cooperation between EU and Russian initiatives.
Ulrich Stege, Director of the Clinical Legal Education Programme at the International University College of Torino, Founding and Board Member of ENCLE (European Network for Clinical Legal Education)

The main outcome of the workshop was an agreement on the production of a guide for Russian legal clinics potentially interested in working with refugees and migrants – together with NGOs – and on cooperation in the organisation of specialised trainings for law students in Russia in 2017.