Currently, there are around 300 Asylum Seekers in Geelong and the surrounding area who have fled another country where they have experienced, or were at risk of experiencing, torture and persecution.

Asylum Seekers have come to Australia seeking safety and now have one opportunity for protection by applying for a protection visa. The visa application process is very lengthy and complex, requiring a detailed written statement in English outlining their case for a visa.

Dealing with Government Departments, legal services and filling out forms can be difficult for anyone. Imagine going through the process without understanding the language on the forms and being unsure of how to access help while facing the prospect of being sent back to the country you fled to escape torture and persecution.

The Geelong and Bellarine-based Seeking Refuge Project (SRP) has mobilised a small army of volunteer Migration Agents and administrative volunteers to help local Asylum Seekers prepare their protection visa applications. These volunteers, in conjunction with professional interpreters, provide Migration Law advice and practical help to Asylum Seekers to apply for protection visas.

With the assistance of Deakin University, a successful crowd funding campaign has recently raised over $80K to fund professional interpreters. We thank the local community who supported this campaign! These interpreters provide an essential service so that the Asylum Seekers and volunteers can understand each other. This understanding makes the application process possible and provide the Asylum Seekers with the best chance of having their story told. Once the Asylum Seeker’s story is properly told, their claim for protection can then reasonably be assessed.

Without access to interpreters, Asylum Seekers will have difficulty understanding the requirements of the process, will have a reduced chance of their application being accepted and may be returned to the country from which they fled, the very country where they experienced violence, torture and persecution.

Project Background

The SRP is a community project funded for a part time project worker through a grant provided by the R.E. Ross Trust. Marijana, our Project Worker and Community Lawyer, works one day a week co-ordinating the project, which is otherwise completely delivered by volunteers. We have recruited and are training a small army of volunteer Migration Agents and administrative volunteers to provide advice and support to our local Asylum Seekers, through both the protection visa application process and by delivering other practical assistance.

The project is auspiced by Barwon Community Legal Service who employs Marijana and is supported by a number of organisations and individuals with special knowledge and interest in protecting the rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees. The project is overseen by the SRP Reference Group and we hope it will be a pilot for similar projects to be rolled out in other regional centres.

The volunteer service offered is legitimate, professional and closely supervised by Refugee Legal.

 

National Association of Community Legal Centres Conference (NACLC) – Sharing our knowledge
On 10 August 2016, Helen Dwyer (Bfr), Jillian Chapman (BCLS) and Marijana Graljuk (BCLS) successfully presented on the topic of creative collaborations in seeking justice for Asylum Seekers and the Seeking Refuge Project. Nick Hudson (BCLS) and Deb Verhoven from Deakin University also presented on the Crowdfunding campaign which was well received.

 

The Project Team

Bellarine for Refugees initiated, and continues to oversee, the SRP. A branch of Rural Australia for Refugees, the community organisation is based in Barwon Heads and works towards a more humane approach to Refugees and Asylum Seekers via raising community awareness, discussing the issues with government representatives and offering support to Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

Barwon Community Legal Service (BCLS) is a not-for-profit independent community legal service and provides free legal information, advice, casework and education to members of the local community with a focus on social justice and working with marginalised and disadvantaged people. BCLS has a proud 30 year history of protecting the rights of members of our local community.

The Wesley Centre for Life Enrichment is part of UnitingCare. The Geelong–based centre offers care, counselling and education and also provides a venue and auspice for the Welcome Place, a drop-in centre for Asylum Seekers.

Diversitat is a registered charity celebrating its 40th year of service this year. It is a not-for-profit community service organisation that provides support services for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, other migrants and the disadvantaged throughout Geelong and the Barwon region. Diversitat represents the voice of 70,000 migrants in the region.

Combined Refugee Action Group Geelong brings together local individuals and groups from a variety of backgrounds with the shared aim of advocating for a just, humane and welcoming policy towards Asylum Seekers and Refugees.

Refugee Legal is a Melbourne-based independent community legal centre specialising in all aspects of refugee and immigration law, policy and practice. The centre assists Asylum Seekers, Refugees and disadvantaged migrants in the community and in detention and provides training and supervision for all volunteers working in the Seeking Refuge Project.

Asylum Seekers Resource Centre is an independent Melbourne-based organisation, aiming to create the most just refugee determination system possible and is committed both to practical daily assistance for Asylum Seekers and Refugees and to community education as the stimulus for social change.

Deakin University is a proud supporter and facilitator of the Seeking Refuge Project.

 

Would you like to refer clients to the Seeking Refuge Project? Helpful information can be found at:

http://barwoncls.org/free-legal-advice/seeking-refuge-project/