Words by Smiley Team
Refugees who have been forced to leave behind family, jobs and necessities when seeking sanctuary often need support to help them guide their way.
And that’s where the Refugee Rights Hub at Sheffield Hallam University comes in.
Founded in 2018, it provides free legal aid to refugees and specialises in reuniting refugees with family members, helping complete the complex visa and evidence process, and filling the gaps in legal assistance created when the UK government withdrew Legal Aid.
The centre is run by trained solicitors alongside graduate interns and students who take part as part of their law degrees. Since the hub’s launch, they have helped more than 200 family members from all over the world in making applications to join loved ones in the UK.
Clare Tudor is the director of the Refugee Rights Hub. “It was founded in response to a piece of work that was looking at the impact of the collapse of legal aid in the refugee sector,” she tells Smiley News.
“I had interviewed many refugees who were very anxious about family reunion – several had started applications with solicitors who were asking for increased fees the refugees couldn’t afford, others had terrible experiences of applications being started but abandoned.”
One refugee told Clare of how he had started an application himself, but got into difficulty which he felt had led to his family being put in grave danger and he was wracked with guilt about this. “Refugees did not understand the system, could not easily navigate the forms without specialist support and a large proportion of those we interviewed had landed in debt, forged potentially exploitative relationships with people they were hoping would help with applications,” she says.
In the past four years, they’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to the hub. “Refugees are so grateful,” she says, “almost all our referrals come through word of mouth and refugee agencies from across Yorkshire, we always have a waiting list and we are frequently asked for training from others in the sector.
“We often get visits from families we have reunited which we love, it makes all the hard work and worry worthwhile.”
A typical story of someone they support is of Mohammed (not his real name) whose pregnant wife, Sumaya and daughter were left behind in Sudan when he was forced to flee. It took Mohammed three years to get to the UK, he was badly exploited and suffered torture on route.
“There was a delay to his asylum claim being decided," explains Clare. "By the time he was granted asylum, his wife had given birth in terrible circumstances and she and the small children had to enter a refugee camp where both children caught malaria.
“The part of the camp they were living in was flooded, so his wife and children were forced to move. His wife was threatened by police once she left the camp and, in fear, she handed her phone over. This led to Mohammed and Sumaya losing touch. Eventually they regained contact after the help of Red Cross and a chance encounter through social media .
“Mohammed approached several solicitors for help with the family reunion application but was told the fees would be at least £1,500, which he couldn’t afford. When he got moved out of his asylum accommodation, his housing officer directed him to city of sanctuary who referred him to us. We took full instruction, gathered the documents, took witness statements and built up a full bundle including a letter of representation, and helped him access money."
The Refugee Rights Hub is actively looking for funding to expand the team, expand the work and train more regulated workers as well as teach more under-graduate and post-graduate students. “We need to adapt and meet whatever new demands in the refugee community emerge,” says Clare.
GET INVOLVED: Find out more about the Refugee Rights Hub and how you can support.
DONATE: You can also support Refugee Action, a national charity supporting those who have had to flee their home. Find out more.