Refugee help at risk

A FREE one-of-a-kind legal clinic for WA asylum seekers could face closure unless emergency funds are raised, says Humanitarian Group CEO Helen Pearce.

The Abbott government axed legal funding for ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ in 2014, leaving asylum seekers in WA to muddle through complex visa application forms on their own.

Relying heavily on volunteers and philanthropic grants Humanitarian Group launched the Temporary Protection Visa project in 2015, and has helped over 2000 people negotiate Australia’s bureaucratic approach to asylum, which includes a 38-page form and 102 detailed personal questions in English (rarely an asylum seeker’s first language).

Many of the grants which funded the clinic have now been exhausted, so in partnership with Curtin’s centre for human rights education HG is crowdfunding $80,000 to help the 140 people on its waiting list.

Ms Pearce says that without their service many asylum seekers who have valid protection claims risk being deported simply because the forms submitted to the department of immigration are poorly filled-in.

“Australia’s protection application process has become increasingly complex in recent years,” Ms Pearce says.

“This makes it difficult to understand for people who come from different legal cultures and do not speak the language of the decision-makers.

“Without adequate legal assistance, the integrity of the visa process can be compromised, and people who are in need of protection can be wrongfully returned to the persecution and harm from which they originally fled.

“They can’t put forward their claims properly, and the ultimate outcome of that is they will be detained and deported, which is why this service is so critical.

“We’re already running on negative so we’re at a point where if this is not successful, we will not be able to provide this free service.”

Curtin University human rights senior lecturer Caroline Fleay says that although the ultimate goal is to change the government’s policy on asylum seekers, crowdfunding campaigns can be very useful in the interim.

To donate visit chuffed.org/project/seeking-refuge-wa. So far the group has raised nearly $90,000.

by TRILOKESH CHANMUGAM

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