Knowing where to go to seek advice can be a challenge when you are moving to or resettling in a strange country. This can be especially the case if your question is a legal one, or if you are unsure about the next steps in a complex situation.
This is where having access to expert legal support can make a big difference, says Shamika Dwarika, who is Pro Bono Development Manager with the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA).
“When someone comes to a new country it can be a worrying time. Knowing that there are people willing to help, and who can help, when there are legal challenges, I think that plays a big part in helping people to resettle and feel a sense of safety,” she said.
In partnership with The Open Community, PILA coordinates a free Legal Advice Panel comprising four Irish law firms – Matheson, Arthur Cox, A&L Goodbody and Mason, Hayes and Curran – who provide support to refugees and to Community Sponsorship Groups and hosts.
Conor Platt, Project Coordinator with The Open Community, said the advice service was important due to the complexity and variety of support needed, and the assistance provided by Sponsorship Groups and people in a hosting role.
‘We’re delighted to see that the provision of this service has helped to resolve a number of issues for people integrating into new lives in Ireland. Having access to legal assistance is an invaluable resource and also an important safeguard for communities,” he added.
Carolann Minnock, Senior Pro Bono Associate with Arthur Cox, said for her firm, providing families and host communities with quick and effective legal guidance is a positive and tangible way to respond to the refugee crisis.
“Providing pro bono high-quality legal services has long been a part of the culture at Arthur Cox and part of our commitment to give back to the communities where we live and work. The Legal Panel provides a valuable opportunity to collaborate with other law firms and NGOs to help those most in need,” she said.
To access the Panel, a group or individual can complete a referral form on The Open Community website, which is sent on to PILA, who then coordinates the response to the query with the firms on the Panel. Examples of queries that are referred include housing, social welfare, employment rights, and family and immigration law.
In addition to supporting refugees who are resettling in Ireland through Community Sponsorship, the Panel also opened its advice services to Afghan and Ukrainian refugees and to people hosting or supporting them in communities this year.
Eithne Lynch, Head of Pro Bono with A&L Goodbody, said she and her colleagues are happy to be able to support hosts, community sponsors and families who are resettling on queries they may have.
“Community sponsorship and hosting can play a crucial role in supporting a family’s integration into life in Ireland. We are delighted to be a part of the legal panel where our lawyers are available to guide and support both sponsors and families to navigate health, education, housing and other systems. It’s great to be part of such a vibrant and collaborative community,” she added.
Niamh Counihan, who is Pro Bono Partner in Matheson, said that their pro bono practice is partner-led and is given the same priority as any other practice area. “Supporting access to justice through pro bono legal work reflects our ethos and culture as a firm. It is also essential to the rule of law, and we believe that we as a firm have a responsibility to use our skills and knowledge to support the legal needs of those who need them most,” she said.