To assess an important aspect of what may be the biggest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, the Clinics for Law and Social Change at University of Haifa sent three Arab-Israeli students to Athens, Greece last Friday to conduct research and provide social and legal aid for refugees from the Middle East and Africa this month.
Headlines regarding Syrian refugees fleeing from war-torn Syria have largely focused on their destitute financial situation, what diseases they’ve encountered during their long journey to Europe and their impact on the continent’s economy. But what about the legal recourse they have as refugees to get their lives back on track?
To that end, the Clinic’s research and interviews on the cultural and medical needs of refugees represent a continuation of the Clinic’s efforts to offer legal aid and translation and assistance to dozens of asylum seekers on the Greek island of Chios.
Since 2017, the Clinic, in partnership with the German Refugee Law Clinics Abroad (RLCA), sent Arabic-speaking students and staff twice a year for 10-day trips to Chios, a major entry point for asylum seekers. The students and staff help the refugees with asylum applications, inform them about the procedure and their rights, help them prepare their documents and application and escort them to the interview.
The partnership with the Clinic helped the RLCA with the language and cultural barrier they faced, as the majority of their staff and volunteers do not speak Arabic and the asylum speakers know little English.
The Clinic is part of an innovative academic program that engages law students in promoting positive social change through the establishment of legal precedents, legislative change and advocacy with public authorities. More than 100 students participate in the clinics each year, reviewing 500 cases. The University operates at least seven clinics a year, rotating from among the following: Arab-Palestinian Minority Rights; Dispute Resolution; Human Rights in Society; Law & Education Policy; Law, Technology & Cyber; Marine Environment; Public Defense; Rights of the Elderly; and Women’s Rights.
The legal aid, translation and point of connection that the students offer to dozens of asylum seekers will continue to help them in a vital way in their moment of need.
Their work in Greece demonstrated to Clinic volunteers that even when faced with the biggest challenges, even one person can make a difference. Dumiana, a fourth-year law student, said: “This experience has shown me what I am capable of. Even though I don’t have enough money to give people to help them, I realized that I can help with the knowledge that I acquired during my studies and can tell you for sure that after I finish [as a law student], I will be involved more in international and national community to provide help for vulnerable groups.”
Nasrin, a third-year law student, said: “I came from the Druze society that goes to the army here in Israel, and we don’t have a connection with Arab society in Israel or our Arab neighbors. At first, I didn’t want the refugees we were helping to know I was a Druze, but they recognized me from my accent. Their reaction was lovely, and it surprised me. It made me look at them differently.”