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The European Lawyers in Lesvos

Our team of Greek lawyers and volunteer European lawyers provide free, independent legal assistance to asylum seekers on Lesvos (Greece)

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

European Lawyers in Lesvos is an independent, charitable non-profit organization. Our team of Greek asylum lawyers and volunteer European asylum lawyers provide free, independent legal assistance to asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesvos. Our lawyers support, and work closely with, lawyers from the Greek Bar Associations. There are currently more than 8,500 asylum seekers on Lesvos, the majority of whom are from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of these often severely traumatised people have a limited understanding about their legal rights, the asylum process and the criteria applied when their applications are assessed. However, there is no state-provided legal aid available to them before their asylum interview. This means that many attend their asylum interview (which determines whether or not they will be granted asylum) without having spoken to a lawyer and may be unaware of the possibility of reunification with their family in other EU member states. We believe that every asylum seeker should be able to receive free legal assistance, from an independent lawyer with experience in asylum law, before their asylum interview. Through our activities, we aim to respond to the challenge caused by the lack of state-provided legal aid by providing free legal assistance to as many asylum seekers as possible on Lesvos. We are a volunteer-based organization and began operations in Moria (the main refugee camp on Lesvos) in early August 2016. We are the only organization on Lesvos that focuses on providing information, practical support and tailored advice for asylum seekers at the crucial first instance stage of the asylum process (i.e. before an applicant’s asylum interview). The only way an asylum seeker is able to receive assistance from a lawyer to prepare them for an interview that will impact on the rest of their life is through an organization like ours. We have welcomed 123 volunteer lawyers who have contributed 25,800 hours of voluntary work.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are asylum seekers on Lesvos, Greece, the majority of whom are from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. We have provided free legal assistance to over 5,400 people, from 57 different countries (41% female and 59% male, of whom 37% are minors). We have assisted with 3,343 cases. Of these, we have prepared asylum seekers for their asylum interviews in 2,755 cases. We have also assisted with 588 family reunification cases. The asylum seekers benefit by receiving expert legal assistance from an experienced, practising asylum lawyer to help them be prepared for their asylum interview or to apply for family reunification. On average, each asylum seeker receives at least 8 hours of legal assistance. Our work has a real impact. Of the asylum seekers we have assisted and who have notified us of the outcome of their asylum application, 74.7% have been granted asylum, compared to an average of 46.5% in Greece.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our organization was established as a European response to what is a European issue. Our organization seeks to bring together expert volunteer asylum lawyers from across Europe to work with Greek asylum lawyers to provide legal assistance to asylum seekers in order to ensure there is meaningful access to legal assistance and the rule of law is upheld. A unique advantage of our organization is the system of collaboration between the volunteer European asylum lawyers and the full time Greek asylum lawyers. The presence of asylum lawyers from across Europe allows the exchange of ideas and experience amongst the team. The 2 permanent Greek asylum lawyers are critical to ensuring that the volunteer asylum lawyers are supported with the necessary expert input about Greek asylum law and there is continuity in managing the cases. This collaboration between European and Greek asylum lawyers is crucial in ensuring that the assistance we provide is responsive, effective and of high quality.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Full Scale Roll Out: I have already tested and scaled this idea significantly with the intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

European Lawyers in Lesvos is an independent, charitable non-profit organization registered in Germany and Greece whose team of Greek asylum lawyers and volunteer European asylum lawyers provide free, independent legal assistance to asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Since 20 March 2016 - “EU-Turkey deal” - over 24,000 people have arrived on Lesvos from Turkey and have been required to stay on the island and lodge an application for asylum. European Lawyers in Lesvos was inspired by belief in the fundamental importance of upholding the rule of law and ensuring meaningful access to legal assistance to harness the solidarity of lawyers across Europe to work with their Greek colleagues in order to provide legal assistance to as many asylum seekers as possible

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Our organization influences peace and prosperity in two ways for asylum seekers in Lesvos. First, the vast majority of asylum seekers on Lesvos are fleeing war and/or persecution in their home country and most are from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. By providing them with free expert legal assistance, it influences peace and prosperity on an individual level by ensuring they have the best possible chance of presenting their application for asylum in a way that reflects their need for international protection and, if successful, beginning a new life in Greece. The provision of free legal assistance also helps influence peace and prosperity locally by reducing tension on Lesvos (both between different communities of asylum seekers and between asylum seekers and the local population) as it ensures that asylum seekers feel represented, have an organization to assist them through the complex and ever-changing asylum process and the legal process is as quick and smooth as possible.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Those who primarily work alongside our organization are the volunteer asylum lawyers from across Europe (123 lawyers from 16 European countries) and the Greek lawyers (2 full-time Greek lawyers). The organization also works with interpreters, who are either recognised refugees on Lesvos or volunteers from overseas, and volunteer legal assistants who are young lawyers or non-lawyers who volunteer to assist the volunteer lawyers and Greek lawyers. We also work alongside other partners locally in Lesvos (NGOs, such as Oxfam, IRC, MSF and MDM, and UNHCR) and at European level. In particular, we work closely with the CCBE and the DAV. These organizations represent the bars and law societies of 32 member countries and 13 associate/observer countries across Europe, and more than 1 million European lawyers. They are engaged in order to engage in advocacy and raise issues and difficulties facing asylum seekers on Lesvos at national and European levels.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

We have received over 500 applications to volunteer with us from highly qualified asylum lawyers across Europe. This demonstrates a great motivation and solidarity amongst European lawyers. These lawyers come from many different countries and bring different experiences/expertise which, together with the local legal expertise of our Greek asylum lawyers, uniquely enables us to provide high quality, free legal assistance combing both Greek and European expertise.

Geographic Focus

The idea targets asylum seekers on Lesvos (from 57 countries) and European volunteers (16 countries)

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

Over the last 18 - 24 months we have developed our project to full scale roll out. We anticipate that it will continue for at least another 12 months.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

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1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Andrew

I love what you are doing. Please keep doing it. Refugees need representation and support in utterly new and unfamiliar situations where they not only face the trauma of displacement and war and loss, but they simply do not know the language, customs or political environment of the communities they are arriving in.