To celebrate Global Pro Bono Week, we are posting a series of blogs from lawyers from various offices internationally about their pro bono matters and experience.
This week we hear from Jen Deakin, Senior Associate, Leeds.
Helping Vulnerable Asylum Seekers with Manuel Bravo
Imagine how you would feel if you had to flee your country due to a fear of persecution. Imagine seeking asylum in a country where everything feels foreign to you. Not only do you have to adjust to life in a new country without the support of your loved ones, but you also have to grapple with an alien legal system to be granted refugee status, often without any legal representation.
The Manuel Bravo Project in Leeds in the UK provides free access to legal representation for asylum seekers. Due to the recent changes in legal aid, many asylum seekers are no longer eligible for legal aid, meaning that more and more asylum seekers have no legal representation.
Manuel Bravo, after whom the project is named, was an asylum seeker from Angola. He fled to the UK after his pro-democracy activity led to attacks on his family, including the murder of his parents. At Manuel’s asylum hearing, his solicitor did not turn up and he was forced to represent himself. As a result he did not even know that his claim for asylum had been finally refused, until he was removed to a deportation centre. On 15 September 2005, Manuel tragically took his own life, in the hope that his son would be allowed to remain safely in the UK and safe from persecution in Angola.
I have been involved since the start of the Project, and along with other lawyers volunteer my time to meet with clients, carry out research and prepare the documentation required for an appeal or a fresh claim. As commercial lawyers, we are lucky to be able to draw on the support of specialist immigration lawyers within the Project. Whilst it is an achievement to complete a contract, it is a very different feeling when you get a phone call from someone crying in happiness that they have been granted refugee status and their nightmare is over, as a result of your hard work.
I have learned so much about other countries and cultures through this work with clients from countries like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq to name but a few. I recently helped a client secure refugee status who had suffered FGM in Sierra Leone. This required us to obtain medical evidence and research a secret matriarchal society unique to West Africa. I also had to research the history and recent political upheavals in Guinea for a client who was seeking asylum on political grounds.
I am proud to say that carrying out pro bono work for the Manuel Bravo Project is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career.