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2019 Global Citizenship Review
A boat on the beach
Story
Global Citizenship
Pro Bono

A dehumanizing odyssey

Our lawyers assist refugees in Lesvos, Greece, as part of a multi-firm and NGO collaboration

In the Moria refugee camp on the Greek Island of Lesvos (also called Lesbos), where more than 19,000 asylum seekers are now housed in a facility meant for just 3,000, our lawyers are working with lawyers from five other law firms through European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) and Refugee Legal Support (RLS) to prepare asylum seekers for interviews as they seek asylum in Europe.

The circumstances in Moria simply violate our European core values and fundamental principles of law. Being lawyers also means that we may not close our eyes and simply ignore it.

Sylvia Fiebig, partner, Hamburg

Acknowledged as one of the worst refugee camps in Europe, dehumanizing conditions in Moria include constant battles against sickness, lack of decent sanitation and food, and severe safety concerns.

“For many people here, including young children, the harsh reality is that things simply won’t get better. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, and there are reports that children as young as ten years old are attempting suicide, which is absolutely heartbreaking,” explained Madrid partner Yoko Takagi, who was the first of our lawyers to volunteer on Lesvos.

White & Case has committed to having volunteers on Lesvos year-round. Each volunteer serves for two weeks at a time. Our lawyers work with ELIL’s professional interpreters and specialist asylum lawyers to provide legal assistance to asylum seekers. By the end of 2019, we had sent 11 lawyers to Lesvos, and we will send ten additional lawyers in the first half of 2020, from seven of our offices in Europe and the Middle East.

Volunteers don’t need a background in asylum law. A detailed training program is provided via a 15-hour self-study online program, in person/remote training sessions and, on arrival in Lesvos, a half-day session at ELIL to fill any gaps.

According to ELIL,75% of asylum seekers supported by lawyers through ELIL’s work are granted international protection, compared to the overall average in Greece of just under 50%.

Each lawyer works on multiple asylum applications and sees 15 to 20 clients per week. Our impact is material: According to ELIL, 75 percent of asylum seekers supported by lawyers through ELIL’s work are granted international protection, compared to the overall average for asylum seekers in Greece of just under 50 percent.

These results occur because lawyers are trained to listen, understand and explain. They help refugee asylum seekers understand how to make their case. A client of Yoko’s had fled Syria after significant and protracted abuse in the army, followed by capture and torture by the Taliban. He only mentioned this after the team explained the importance of specific evidence to support his asylum claim.

“I’m now confident he has a compelling case, which has the potential to be life-changing, even life-saving, for him,” concluded Yoko.

Other White & Case volunteers also comment on the life-changing impact of the work. Milan-based associate Louise Ruggiero, who spent time at the camp in 2019, summed it up: “It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of a humanitarian disaster on this scale, but being a lawyer puts you in a position to make a difference.” Hamburg partner Sylvia Fiebig, another volunteer, said, “We should be aware that this is happening in Europe, right next to us. The circumstances in Moria simply violate our European core values and fundamental principles of law. Being lawyers also means that we may not close our eyes and simply ignore it—we have to ensure that the rule of law remains valid for everyone.”

Image: // A boat that carried refugees. Lesvos, Greece, 2015
© Socrates Baltagiannis / Alamy Stock Photo

 

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