2016 Pro Bono Awards: Legal Aid for Greece’s Stranded

PILnet has recognized the work carried out by Reed Smith and METAdrasi by shortlisting them for PILnet’s 2016 European Award for Exemplary Partnership in the Public Interest. Founded in 2010, METAdrasi (Action for Migration and Development) is a highly regarded Greek NGO devoted to facilitating the reception and integration of refugees and immigrants in Greece, primarily in providing interpretation services and the protection of unaccompanied children. In response to one of the worst refugee crises in modern history, Reed Smith has augmented METAdrasi’s presence on three Greek islands where more than 10,000 refugees are stranded. These displaced people suffer from a severe lack of resources, including legal assistance, as they wait for their admissibility and asylum proceedings to be resolved. Reed Smith and METAdrasi have been instrumental in developing systems to provide access to legal counsel, by convincing local authorities to implement a working system for international lawyers to appear in proceedings with refugees.

Working with METAdrasi’s lawyers, Reed Smith lawyers have provided advocacy for vulnerable refugee populations, such as torture survivors, rape victims, the disabled, the elderly, women and children. For example, Reed Smith lawyers recently accompanied a refugee family with two paralyzed individuals to Athens, provided legal support to a woman with extreme mental health issues by obtaining permission for her and her family to go to Athens for an asylum interview, and provided support for a rape victim by taking her testimony and drafting a declaration in support of her asylum application. In addition to its partnership with METAdrasi, Reed Smith has also partnered up with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other NGOs in the vital effort to protect and support unaccompanied minors. To date, Reed Smith lawyers have helped screen over 200 unaccompanied minors on the islands to determine who they are and where their families are, and assisted in family reunification efforts.

Reed Smith lawyers have supported and provided advocacy for refugees in admissibility proceedings conducted by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). These refugees are at risk of deportation back to Turkey, and Reed Smith lawyers have provided them with crucial legal education on their rights. They prepare and counsel refugees before and during admissibility hearings and conduct group presentations to explain the EU-Turkey deal, procedures for seeking asylum, and rules regarding family reunification.

Photo by CAFOD Photo Library, Flickr Creative Commons

Two kids play at Idomeni, a small Greek village near the Macedonian border

Across the global offices, Reed Smith has 23 lawyers offering remote research assistance, and others providing interpretation support, to help those on the ground in Greece. The in-country team particularly draws upon the regional support and knowledge of the firm’s office in Athens. Since May, Reed Smith has devoted 2,225 pro bono hours to the project, at a value of nearly £1,280,000 (UK). Additionally, Reed Smith has contributed $100,000 (US) to date, to cover team members’ flights, accommodations, interpreters, and other costs associated with their refugee work in Greece.