Getting to know the JRS UK Legal Project

JRS UK Legal team: Michael, Legal Officer; Lujaina, Legal Project Volunteer; and Jess, Legal Caseworker
JRS UK Legal team: Michael, Legal Officer; Lujaina, Legal Project Volunteer; and Jess, Legal Caseworker

Michael and Jess have recently been working to set-up a new specialist Legal Advice Project at JRS UK, following their successful registration with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).

The complexity of the asylum system often results in people initially being refused asylum, but with good legal advice and representation, people are able to demonstrate that they are refugees, and entitled to international protection.

Solicitors and Immigration Advisors find it harder and harder to supply the level of legal advice and representation they want to in the face of ever-growing need, as the far-reaching cuts to Legal Aid are beginning to bite.  

JRS UK works with around 300 destitute refugees and people seeking asylum – many of whom struggle to secure legal representation. The Legal Advice Project enables JRS UK to provide free legal advice and representation to those registered through the Day Centre. One of the benefits of the project is the time the team are able to spend with refugees – to accompany them through the complex processes, and to fully explain the options open to them. Michael and Jess have the time to consider all options – some cases may need advice on making a new protection claim (a ‘Fresh Claim’) based on new evidence or changing country situations; as well as factors which may give rise to other legal routes.

Asked to describe an average day in the legal project, Michael explains the regular meetings with refugees “are a mix of longer sessions taking detailed instructions and drafting statements, and shorter sessions advising on the next steps or updating them on what progress we are making. When we are not with clients we are drafting advice letters or preparing written representations to the Home Office, researching evidence and legal issues and planning what to do.”

The first time refugees come to JRS UK, they have a registration interview – where the JRS Team learn about how they’ve come to be in need of JRS’ support. Jess and Michael have begun to support these first interviews, alongside a number of religious sisters who have been doing similar interviews for many years. Jessica explains, “It’s wonderful for us to be able to accompany one another in this task – it’s the first time someone is coming to JRS, and they are often distressed and confused at coming to yet another support service. The sisters have a wonderful way at helping people feel at ease and at home quickly.”

“JRS UK is an extremely special place to work, and unlike anywhere I have worked before,” Jessica says. “It is very rewarding being part of a team so driven by a shared mission. I learn so much from my colleagues and from our refugee friends. The environment at JRS UK is supportive, encouraging and inspiring. Having a friendly, safe space where I can spend time with our refugee friends, both in relation to their cases and also just having a chat over lunch or at the Day Centre, is unique and extremely positive.”

Michael compares his experience at JRS UK to his previous work places as “massively different in many ways, and similar in others. We feel we are part of a team that has a real mission to stand with the most marginalised in a very real and personal sense and that impacts on how we work with and for our refugee friends. We have more time to see them, to be accessible to them, and to ensure they understand what is happening.”

JRS UK is hugely grateful to the Congregation of Jesus Sisters and the Marist Sisters for providing the initial funding for the Legal Project. Without their support, they would not be able to support our refugee friends with this unique legal advice service.

JRS UK is taking part in the London Legal Walk on Monday 17th June. Join them in helping to raise funds for the Legal Project.

This article has been sourced from a double interview on JRS UK’s website.