Legal Representation for Asylum-Seekers and Refugees: Much Needed yet Sparse

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures taken by many governments worldwide in order to contain its spread have exacerbated the pitiful and dire state of our diverse societies’ most disadvantaged – not least asylum-seekers and refugees. Normally, asylum-seekers in most countries often face tremendous challenges trying to get recognised as refugees. Yet some manage to navigate the bureaucratic maze and apparently complex system with the aid of legal aid service providers, most of whom are established Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Many an asylum-seeker, particularly in countries with highly individualised and legalised refugee recognition systems, have only gotten recognised as refugees after legal and/or (quasi-)judicial intervention, the latter of which is usually accessible through legal representation. In the present novel circumstances, refugee status determination processes have been suspended in most countries, and yet in some, they may continue to operate with minimal functionality or services. Therefore, those that need their services are more or less locked out depending on how each country has adapted to the situation.

This article was prompted by a news story in which lawyers of an asylum-seeker were mounting a legal challenge against the UK Home Office for failing to support asylum-seekers. While countries were quick to announce lockdown measures, they were not well thought through in order to shield the most vulnerable and marginalised members of societies from adverse consequential and knock-on effects. The story mentioned above clearly illustrates that without the intervention of lawyers, the clearly destitute family would be left in a considerably helpless and hopeless situation. Yet this story serves as an exemplar of the plight of asylum seekers and refugees who often need legal representation and assistance, but the service is hardly accessible nor available. I turn my attention to the situation in Africa which hosts about 33.5% and 17.5% of the world’s refugees and asylum-seekers, respectively.

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