A Refugee Law Clinic in Maastricht
After months of news about asylum seekers dying in the Mediterranean Sea, weeks of steadily increasing influx of people from the eastern borders of the EU, and witnessing the temporary exit of Germany from the Schengen agreement last weekend, the Maastricht University Faculty of Law has announced the Law Refugee Week.
So let us take this as a starting point to think what us students and staff members of this faculty could do to help the 33,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in the Netherlands since 2014 and the many more that are expected to arrive in the months to come.
The easiest possibility at this moment is to support the two projects ‘Refugee Project Maastricht’ and ‘Not Just A Number’, which are currently being run in Maastricht.
But beyond that, I believe that we can use the specific knowledge and skills that our legal studies equip us with to help the refugees.
Drawing inspiration from similar initiatives at several German law faculties, I aim to kickstart with your support a Refugee Law Clinic in Maastricht (with the potential to introduce this project at other law faculties in the Netherlands).
While presenting the blueprint of this project, I’ve often heard from enthusiastic first years ’I really would like to help, but I am just a first year student’. Similarly, more advanced bachelor and master students have voiced their concerns whether their foot-in-the-door background on migration law could really have an impact. And those with a professional legal background may wonder, ‘Can this really be a good idea? Students advising refugees on these sensitive matters?’
All these questions need to and will be addressed, to guarantee that this initiative will create an actual support structure. Therefore, it will be necessary to set up specific training modules for the volunteers. And obviously there is a clear limit to what level of guidance students can give.
The goal of this initiative is not to replace the lawyers who accompany the refugees to their meeting with COA (Centraal Organ opvang asielzoekers). It cannot. The aim is to support the work of these lawyers by helping the refugees to prepare the paperwork for these meetings, avoid unnecessary delays, and clearing bureaucratic headaches before they arise. Most importantly, the volunteers of the Refugee Law Clinic would help to give the refugees a better understanding of their situation and status – and would always be approachable for questions.
This is the plan as of now, and let me emphasise the word ‘plan’. This article is at this point ‘just’ a project pitch to you.
There are a few more hurdles to clear before this proposition becomes a standing project. The key will be to build a strong partnership with COA from whom we have already received positive feedback.
If you would like to receive update about this initiative and get contacted for future volunteering opportunities, please register for the mailing list here.