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The importance of legal aid

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

The more I read about Moria refugee camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos, the more horrified I am. The camp was originally built for 3,000 people and now has a population of over 20,000, including 1,000 unaccompanied minors. And conditions are at a tipping point.

There is no electricity and access to clean water is difficult. Rubbish is piled up on the floor. Illnesses are rife in these unhygienic conditions and access to medical care is limited. Carbon monoxide poison from fires used to keep warm is not unusual.

In these desperate conditions, violence has spread, including stabbings at night. Women and children wear nappies at night to avoid having to go to the toilet. Panic attacks from PTSD are common and children are self-harming.

On Monday, men, women and children took part in a peaceful protest against these conditions and the seemingly random deportations. The response from the police was tear gas.

This might seem like a humanitarian crisis, and at one level it is. But Moria is overcrowded because people are stuck there waiting indefinitely for a decision on their asylum claim. The wait lasts months and can take over a year.

Often, when the time finally comes for an asylum seeker to have their interview, they are unprepared as they have received no legal advice for what will likely be the most important legal decision of their life. The translator may not even speak the same language as the asylum seeker. This is happening in the context of a system which requires asylum seekers to produce consistent stories with precise details about traumatic events.

Providing legal aid to asylum seekers gives them a fair chance to have their case heard. This ensures that the most vulnerable people are given the protection they need and reduces the number of appeals. In this way, refugees can leave the camp faster, begin rebuilding their lives and ease the conditions for those still waiting. Legal aid is essential to improve the horrific conditions in Moria.

SolidariTee is an incredible charity which raises money to support organisations providing essential legal aid in Greece. The founder, Tiara Sahar Ataii, powerfully explains the importance of legal aid in her TED Talk:

You can learn more about SolidariTee and how to support them here:

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