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Seeking refuge in Geelong: A community supporting local asylum seekers

Seeking refuge in Geelong: A community supporting local asylum seekers

By LIV Young Lawyers

Access to Justice Asylum 


Asylum seekers applying for a protection visa from the Australian government face an arduous application process. They need to answer more than 100 questions in English and, among other things, give detailed evidence of their previous residences and travel movements over the last 30 years. For people who seek protection in Australia from a traumatic and disruptive past, this process can work to frustrate and undermine their rights to seek asylum. In 2014, a group of concerned retirees in the Barwon Heads community came together with a shared goal – to help asylum seekers in the wider Geelong region as they work through the detailed and complex fast-tracked visa application process. The group – Bellarine for Refugees – has created the Seeking Refuge Project at the Barwon Community Legal Service (BCLS) to counteract injustices they believe are built into the visa application process. Young lawyer, Marijana Graljuk works at BCLS as the project worker overseeing the Seeking Refuge Project. Ms Graljuk’s personal experience as a refugee in Australia gives her an insight into both how daunting this application process is for her clients, and how much of a difference the support and guidance of concerned Australians can make to the lives of asylum seekers. What is the Seeking Refuge Project? A team of more than 60 volunteers work out of the BCLS to help asylum seekers work through the visa application process. These volunteers include migration agents and administrative assistants comprised of students and graduates from a variety of courses, including law, as well as retirees from a variety of disciplines. The project provides free local visa application assistance without which these asylum seekers would have to navigate the complex process alone – and in a language that they may not understand. The migration agent advises the asylum seeker client on the process and the visas available. From here, the support team of administrative assistants apply for an extension of time and the clients’ freedom of information documents (a process that can take months) and use this information to pre-fill the asylum seeker’s visa application. The migration agent then finalises the client’s application by interviewing them about their protection claims and writing this information into a statement. Last year, the project launched an online crowd-funding campaign with Deakin University to raise funds for interpreters to assist with the critical step of completing the asylum seekers’ claim for protection which outlines their experience and case for being granted a visa. For those who contributed to funding, the campaign offered recipes from the asylum seekers’ cultures and complimentary dinners at local restaurants. The campaign quickly secured the necessary funding. Many of the volunteer migration agents are themselves young lawyers who are driven to use their legal training to support the asylum seekers in their community. Ms Graljuk feels that the fact that these volunteers can see how critical their work is to the success of their clients’ application is incredibly gratifying for them. It also gives the volunteers a shared mission and the experience of working collectively to make a difference to their community. For the asylum seekers, the contribution that this project makes to their lives in helping them secure the opportunity to seek temporary refuge in Australia cannot be understated. If you have any questions about the Seeking Refuge Project, contact Marijana at the Barwon Community Legal Service on 1300 430 599.

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