The Southwark Law Centre and Refugee Week

By the end of the first year of LASPO the number of active law centres had gone down in seven years from 63 to 45.  Since then, this number has held more or less constant, as active law centres are finding more and more ways, often in partnership with others, of attracting support from new funders and commissioners who have the imagination to see that the provision of specialist legal advice must often be a central ingredient in any package of assistance directed towards vulnerable people within a local community.

In recent months I have read about initiatives taken towards this end in different parts of the country, and this week I will be visiting the Hackney Law Centre in East London to hear and see for myself for the first time some of the innovative projects in which they are involved with other local community organisations.

In another illustration of this partnership approach, during this year’s Refugee Week (June 17-24) the Southwark Law Centre will be joining up with other local community groups to sponsor a week of debate, film and theatre in aid of

The Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers;

The Southwark Refugee Communities Forum; and

The Southwark Refuge and Migrant Project.

I have been familiar with the work of this law centre for a number of years – I am now an honorary life member – and one of its current Outreach projects involves sending its lawyers out into the field to be available to give relevant legal advice in a place where other frontline help and advice is also provided for for refugees and asylum-seekers.

Since 1998 Refugee Week has taken place in many countries each year as a direct reaction to hostility in the media and in society generally towards refugees and asylum seekers. It is a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that are designed to celebrate the contribution refugees have made to this country and to encourage a better understanding between communities.  This is particularly important today, given the extent of the poison that is being spread abroad by Little Englanders of one obnoxious species or another.

Different events are being organised in Southwark on every evening of the week. I hope to attend the opening event on Saturday 17th June, a four-hour session of discussion and film which will be chaired by Giles Fraser, a former canon of St Paul’s Cathedral and now a local parish priest in Southwark (in addition to being a columnist for The Guardian).

The speakers will include:

Beth Gardiner-Smith: the Dubs Amendment and what happens now

Beth is the child refugees organiser for Safe Passage, a charity which helps unaccompanied child refuges and vulnerable adults in Europe to find safe, legal routes to this country;

Shivani Jegarajah: Protecting Human Rights in a hostile climate

Shivani is a barrister specialising in asylum and human rights law whom I often saw in court during my days as a senior judge hearing asylum appeals;

Harriet Grant: UK government returning refugees to other European countries

Harriet is an award-winning freelance journalist who has written many articles about refugees and asylum-seekers;

Refugees living in Southwark

Councillor Barrie Hargrove: Southwark’s plans for Syrian refugees

Barrie is Southwark Council’s Cabinet member for Communities and Safety.

In addition to this debate, the afternoon will include the showing of three short films:

No Human is Illegal

A feature documentary about migrants detained on the Island of Lesbos

Miracle Life

A funny and touching film about a refugee’s first days in Hull

Frozen Out: the US interpreters abandoned on Europe’s border

A film describing the plight of two Afghans who had acted as interpreters for the US army who got stuck in Serbia on the wrong side of impenetrable borders

The programme for the week can be found here.


I hope that a link to this blog can be retweeted widely, not only to draw attention to the event in Southwark, but also to this nationwide initiative in three weeks’ time which will highlight the benefits we have received from our strong history of support for those who have legitimately sought and obtained asylum in this country.

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