On the case
21 June 2018
| Care and Support | News
Metropolitan’s Migration Foundation uses an endowment fund to help charities resolving destitution among refugees and asylum seekers.
We talk to Kat Lorenz, director of the Asylum Support Appeals Project, which the Migration Foundation has supported for the past nine years.
What does the Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP) do?
KL: Our fundamental purpose is to try to stop asylum seekers becoming homeless. The most direct way we do this is by representing people at the Asylum Support Appeals tribunal. The Home Office decides whether asylum seekers have access to accommodation and financial support. If that support is refused or withdrawn, the person usually has a right of appeal. But there is no funding for this – they cannot use a solicitor to represent them in court – so we offer a pro bono [free] service.
Who represents the asylum seekers in court?
KL: We have about 40 volunteer lawyers and we’re recruiting another 14 this year. They’re a mixture of city lawyers – recruited through particular law firms, barristers and legal aid solicitors. Some are just starting out on their law careers, others are more established.
How is ASAP funded?
KL: About 15 trusts and foundations – including Metropolitan’s Migration Foundation, which has supported us for the past nine years – provide about 85% of our funding. Some of the City law firms fund us a small amount a year.
Who do you help?
KL: Last year, we advised or represented just under 600 people in tribunal. They are a cross-section of the UK’s asylum seeker population. They include families with young children, which can be challenging in the tribunal setting. There are no childcare facilities; children run around the courtroom, listening to things we really wouldn’t want them to hear. We also help a lot of young men from countries like Afghanistan and Eritrea, who were targeted by warring factions and forced to flee.
Do people need to be referred to ASAP?
KL: Many are referred to us by local advice organisations around the UK. Individuals can contact us themselves, but we also worry about those who don’t know we exist. On the day of tribunals, we also offer our service to those who arrive unrepresented for their appeal.
What else does ASAP do?
KL: If we see a recurring problem – and it’s a systemic issue rather than relating to an individual case – then we will work to influence Home Office policy and effect change. For instance, there was no emergency accommodation for people who won their appeal. We chipped away at the problem and now there is emergency accommodation and transport to it from the tribunal. People are told this before their appeals so they can bring their belongings with them.
What does success look like?
KL: We are the only organisation in the UK doing this work. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to exist; people would be granted the support they are entitled to. There wouldn’t be 70% of people who are wrongly refused.
We’d also like to see Legal Aid available for this work. It’s a really intimidating court environment. It’s very technical and people need expert guidance. If we didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be any access to this kind of advice, but it shouldn’t be reliant on us.
Maryam Oghanna, commercial lawyer and ASAP volunteer
Maryam Oghanna was born in Iraq. When she was three – just after the first Gulf War – her family came to the UK to seek asylum.
“Asylum was quite a different world back then,” she says. “My dad remembers going to an office in Croydon – and that was it, really.”
Both her parents were doctors, but Maryam decided to study law. She started a training contract with a City law firm and qualified as a commercial lawyer two years ago.
With fraud her speciality, she often works on multi-million pound cases with big companies or high net worth individuals, usually dealing with other lawyers around the world. But from day one, she was interested in pro bono [free] work.
“This was partly for development,” she says. “It gives you much more exposure to clients and it allows you to handle cases by yourself and build up experience.
“But also because of my background, I really wanted to help other asylum seekers and ASAP was always on my radar. I applied as soon as I could.”
She commits a minimum of two days a quarter to the asylum support work – specifically to the appeal hearings of those who have been refused housing and financial support from the Home Office while their asylum claims are considered.
Maryam sees the cases the day before the tribunal, often working late into the evening to familiarise herself with the individual circumstances. She meets those she is representing an hour before the hearing. “You get a real flavour of their story when you hear it directly from them,” she believes.
She sees part of her job as explaining what’s going on – what the appeal is for, what the Home Office is, what the judge will do and outlining the options, should an appeal fail.
“It’s very difficult emotionally,” she admits. “You hear stories about family members being killed, terrible things that have happened. You don’t need to know someone very well to empathise.”
With a success rate of about 70%, the role of ASAP and its volunteers is all too apparent.
“Without us, they’d be going into court by themselves,” says Maryam. “They’d be up against the Home Office and its legal representation. That’s an uneven balance.”