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Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid: Empowering asylum seekers with comprehensive legal and psychological assistance

At Fenix, we believe information is a human right; we help asylum seekers advocate for themselves through comprehensive legal assistance.

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The problem is clear: Every year, thousands of people around the world are interviewed for asylum without the legal information they need to represent themselves and their cases. This problem is directly correlated with the problem of overcapacity in camp settings — the further stretched resources are, the less likely asylum seekers are to have access to the information they need for their asylum interviews. These interviews determine their future — whether their claims will be granted, whether they will be deported, whether they will be able to join already resettled family members. In short, this interview may be the most significant of their lives. Still, there is no internationally mandated mechanism in place to ensure asylum seekers both know their rights and are physically, mentally and legally prepared for their interviews. At Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid, we work hard to address this problem in Lesbos, Greece. Because of war, violence, disease, and abject poverty, the flow of asylum seekers making the treacherous sea journey to arrive in Lesbos remains steady. As a result, Moria Refugee Camp remains dangerously overcapacity, housing 9,500 asylum seekers in a space built for 2,500. While organizations such as the UNHCR work to provide for the basic needs of Moria residents, we believe we offer a distinct and complementary service: comprehensive legal assistance to help asylum seekers regain a sense of dignity, demand respect, and advocate for themselves in their asylum interviews. In just a few months, we have assisted over 1,000 clients from 19 countries in 10 languages. Our team of 20 includes asylum seekers working as translators and protection officers and is female-led. Our team goes beyond legal assistance to provide psychological, medical, and protection support to our clients. We believe they will be best able to empower themselves if their psychosocial, not just physical, needs are met.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We work in Lesbos, Greece to meet the acute needs of people seeking refuge in the European Union. As a team of multi-lingual, European and international lawyers with training at Oxford, Harvard, and Berkley and experience working on asylum cases at both multinational law firms and in humanitarian settings, we believe we are well-positioned to offer asylum seekers world-class legal support to best prepare them for their asylum interviews — filling a critical gap in assistance.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our team is focused on providing information to help communities, not just individuals, thrive. We employ asylum seekers as translators and protection officers; these valued and essential members of our staff also serve as community ambassadors, combatting disinformation in the camp through information sharing both formally and informally. This information provides clarity in an obscure, and difficult, bureaucratic process — fostering camp-wide collaboration, unity, and information sharing.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Enabling the pursuit of joy, hope, and dignity is at the core of our mission. We believe humanitarian assistance must give people the tools they need to empower themselves. Therefore, we work to provide comprehensive legal, protection, psychological, and medical support and advocacy to our clients. We are the only legal organization that provides this comprehensive support just outside the gates of Moria — making our services accessible to residents without placing undue financial or temporal burdens on them. In addition to these personnel needs, Fenix also seeks to provide urgent in-kind support to clients on a needs-basis — including hearing devices, wheelchairs and sanitary products. These products enhance the dignity and well-being of clients, supporting their mental health and enabling them to focus more fully on the rigorous process of asylum interview preparation. All together, these services are integral to helping asylum seekers exercise their rights and claim dignity.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We want to go beyond critical client support to create a new model for assistance. Currently, legal assistance is an ad-hoc, marginalized to a few non-profits instead of being centralized as an essential facet of basic assistance by international humanitarian coordinating bodies. Our work creates an actionable impact on this issue by offering both critical client support and a scalable solution to a structural problem. With additional funding, we hope to expand and scale our model of comprehensive assistance which offers both information and psychosocial support in our legal assistance. This model includes asylum seeker voices and perspectives as an essential part of iteration, particularly as we work hard to employ as many asylum seekers as possible to lead our local efforts. We have seen the transformative impact of this approach within the communities we have worked with and will measure success extension of reach and the mainstreaming of the idea: information is a human right.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

This work centers dignity and empowerment, transforming communities with the information and education they need to feel both hopeful and powerful in their asylum process. Our founders first identified this critical gap in assistance while working in Moria in previous years; while in the camp, they were consistently struck by the rampant disinformation about the asylum process, fueled by the opacity and irregularity of the processing system, that spread distrust and hopelessness. Fenix fills this critical gap in needed information and legal assistance — helping clients both navigate the process and gain a better understanding of their rights in preparation for their final asylum interview. The community of asylum seekers we serve at Moria craves more information. While many asylum seekers spend a significant portion of their finances on access to cell phone data to search for this information, we provide them with legal assistance they cannot get online.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Our community of asylum seekers at Moria (and in the surrounding areas of Kara Tepe Camp and Mytilini) straddles widely disparate identities — hailing from myriad nationalities, cultures, religions, ethnicities, and continents. Still, they share one thing in common: they each faced the difficult reality that risking everything to seek asylum in Europe would be preferable to staying home. By employing asylum seekers in our core staff, we are able to mediate these differences with cultural sensitivity. This year alone we have worked with over 1,000 clients from 19 countries speaking 10 different languages. Our clients share the experience of navigating the bureaucratic process of claiming asylum, living together in Moria and the surrounding areas. Through our conversations with clients, we have been able to iterate to more effectively meet the needs of the community — still, additional translators and office space is needed to help us expand our reach.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

The environment we work in is highly collaborative and iterative; the humanitarian system is in a constant state of iteration and is always looking for scalable ideas for effective implementation. Additionally, our work has constantly affirmed the scalability of information sharing; the proximity of asylum seekers and the highly connected nature of the communities living in Moria and Kara Tepe camps and in Mytilini means that we exist in a highly diffuse information ecosystem. By working to provide accurate, timely information and legal assistance, we are giving asylum seekers the tools to empower not only themselves and their families, but their communities as well.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

We currently partner internationally with a range of companies and university groups for our core funding. These partners include SolidariTee, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LL, Mansfield College Boat Club (Oxford University), as well as personal donors who are committed to Fenix’s mission. We are also partnering with a team of app developers and researchers working out of the University of Southern California to develop a centralized platform to notify asylum seekers on Lesbos of the services available to them, the opening times of different clinics and offices, and digital appointment booking to save them time and money in transport. Through this platform, we hope to enhance our ability to offer asylum seekers comprehensive support and situational information, giving them the tools to empower themselves. We hope to create a product that all organizations working in Lesbos will find valuable and will contribute to, enhancing the efficacy of the platform.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Our team is comprised of highly trained lawyers, many of whom have graduated from Oxford, Harvard, and Berkley. Our team also includes: protection (case) officers, legal assistants, translators, psychologists, remote researchers, and technology and communications specialists. Our translators are talented, multi-lingual cultural mediators who are also asylum seekers living in Moria Refugee Camp. With the exception of the executive team and translators, the majority of our team is working on a volunteer basis on 6-month rotations. The legal team meets bi-weekly and sees clients daily in our offices just outside of Moria Refugee Camp. While most non-profits working in human rights defense are located in Mytilini, Lesbos’s capital city, we are the only legal aid organisation located adjacent to Moria to make it easier for clients to reach our offices and get the information and legal assistance they need. Additionally, our team of 49 volunteers is predominately run by women.

Website URL:

fenixaid.org

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

Greece

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Mytilini, Lesbos

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Team

Hi, Ana Chiban, welcome to the Challenge. We wish you success in your good work!