Study Visit in Norway: Legal Aid for Refugees and Immigrants
12.05.2016 / 11:17 / Access to Justice
Between 20-25 April, ACTEDO went to Norway on a study visit to learn more about how Norwegian NGOs and institutions provide legal aid and otherwise assist refugees and immigrants, a particularly relevant topic in the context of the current refugee crisis in Europe. The study visit was funded with the help of EEA Grants through the Fund for Bilateral Relations, Measure b. Networks and exchange of practices. The goal of the visit was to exchange good practices and increase the capability of the Pro Bono Network for Human Rights to provide legal aid to immigrants and refugees. During the visit we had the chance to visit six organizations and one university:
Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an international organisation based in Oslo, with active programs in 28 countries. NRC’s main activity is the deliverance of humanitarian aid in countries dealing with armed conflict and providing assistance to internally displaced persons in order to avoid the situation from escalating into a refugee emergency. During the meeting we discussed about their Information Counselling and Legal Aid (ICLA) program. We were impressed to find out how they manage existing resources by organizing training sessions and including paralegals in their field work.
Nobel Peace Center
During our visit to the Nobel Peace Center we had the chance to learn about the winners of the 2015 prize in The Tunisian Method exhibition. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was awarded the prize in 2015 for its “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011”. The other exhibitions visited were Targets, about how different cultures create different images of the enemy, and Syria is my only home, about the life of Syrian refugees seen through the eyes of children.
Initially operating inside a bus, Jussbuss (“the law bus”) was founded in Oslo in 1971 and is now one of the largest legal clinics in Norway. It is run by approximately 30 law students and it provides free legal aid to people in need. Unlike other legal clinics, Jussbuss is entirely run by students and constitutes a full-time job (which includes a salary, although a modest one), meaning that its members take one year off from classes to fully dedicate themselves to their tasks in the organisation. In addition, the legal clinic is integrated in the curriculum of the University (one year at Juss-Buss accounts for 30 credits). The high competition and the rigorous selection process add up to students being very passionate about their work, which makes Jussbuss a prestigious and motivating experience sought by many students.
JURK (Juridisk Rådgivning For Kvinner)
Similarly to Jussbuss, JURK – Legal Advice for Women is a legal clinic run entirely by law students, who work full time for at least one semester. What differentiates it from other legal clinics is that it provides legal aid to women only and it focuses on gender-based issues, such as domestic violence, family law, gender discrimination etc. At JURK, we had a fruitful conversation on the particular legal challenges that women face in Norway and the vulnerabilities associated to women of immigrant background.
Norwegian Organization For Asylum Seekers (NOAS)
Founded in Oslo in 1984, the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS) does advocacy work and provides legal aid for asylum seekers in Norway. According to NOAS, many asylum seekers are uninformed about asylum laws and many asylum requests are turned down due to faults on the applicant’s side, as well as questionable rulings the flaws of which escape the eyes of the applicants who lack legal training. The organisation helps these asylum seekers by making sure that they present a solid case to reduce the risk of having their applications rejected, but also by lodging appeals in cases of questionable rejections. NOAS presented the main challenges that asylum seekers face in Norway, as well as tips for lawyers who are considering to offer legal advice to immigrants and refugees. In addition, we discussed potential future collaborations between NOAS and ACTEDO, especially the possibility of organising training sessions and knowledge transfers for Romanian lawyers to increase their ability to deal with requests for legal assistance from asylum seekers.
University of Bergen
In Bergen, our team took the time to visit the university and its library. We shuffled through the books of the department of Social Sciences and Law, respectively, and we left an English copy of our Report on the first year of activity of the Pro Bono Network for Human Rights.
Selvhjelp for Innvandrere og Flyktninger (SEIF)
The last organisation we met with at their office in Bergen was SEIF (Self-help for Immigrants and Refugees), who provides counseling for immigrants and refugees who are having difficulties in their stay in Norway. This includes legal aid when dealing with Norwegian bureaucracy but also assistance in the process of integration in Norwegian society, learning about one’s rights etc. Despite the rather small number of employees, SEIF usually receives a staggering amount of inquiries: in 2014 there were over 15,500 inquiries from persons belonging to 124 nationalities! Therefore, we were impressed to find out about their excellent collaboration with other organisation and their referral procedures which makes SEIF a hub where immigrants come to seek help in solving virtually any type of problem, not only legal, but also administrative or even psychological.
Overall, this visit was an excellent learning experience for our team and an opportunity to exchange good practices with similar organisations having broad experience in providing legal assistance to refugees and migrants, something that may also become a pressing issue in the near future in Romania, in the context of the possible opening of new migration routes crossing the territory of Romania. We hope that when that will happen, the Pro Bono Network for Human Rights will be prepared to assist asylum seekers.