On June 14th, TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono connection service, hosted a screening of Human Flow at London’s iconic Barbican Centre. The film, directed by acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei, gives a powerful visual expression to massive human migration, elucidating both the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact.
After the screening, Kerry Stares, Global Head of Legal at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, moderated a discussion with Sebastian Rocca, founder and CEO of Micro Rainbow International (MRI), Tahiri Jones, Outreach Officer and former MRI beneficiary, and Rebecca Naylor, Associate and Pro Bono EMEA at Reed Smith. Both MRI and Reed Smith are active TrustLaw members, and joined us to discuss the powerful role pro bono lawyers can play in defending and empowering refugees.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are over 68.5 million forcibly displaced people globally - 40 million are internally displaced, and 28.5 are refugees and asylum seekers. 85% of those displaced are in developing countries. Human Flow gives a brief glimpse of the daily lives and struggles of these refugees.
“It was a privilege to partner with Participant Media to screen Human Flow. This extraordinary film, documenting the experiences of refugees around the world, gives us a glimpse of the daily reality of lives lived without access to basic human rights such as health, education and family life. TrustLaw is proud to collaborate with leading refugee rights NGOs and pioneering pro bono lawyers to do more to ensure refugees get access to vital legal services and support and is committed to continuing this important work,” said Kerry Stares.
Role of Pro Bono
Every year, thousands of LGBTI people apply for asylum in the UK. Many of these individuals face mental health and integration challenges, and are at risk of abuse in government accommodation. In 2016, TrustLaw facilitated a pro bono partnership between MRI and the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, who offered MRI the legal advice it needed to open the first safehouse for LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
Sebastian Rocca opened the panel discussion by describing MRI’s journey to opening the safehouse: “We went to TrustLaw to access legal advice. TrustLaw facilitated an introduction with Weil Gotshal, with whom we are with are still partnering. Over the past year and a half, they have spent 250 hours on pro bono work for us. This partnership has allowed 8 LGBTI asylum seekers who faced abuse to have a safe place to go through the asylum process. To allow those people to be safe, be whoever they want to be, love whoever they want in this country.”
“One of my greatest fears was being placed in a detention centre with immigrants and people from countries where homosexuality is illegal, and maybe face abuse,” said Tahiri Jones, who was forced to flee his home country of Jamaica in 2008. “The fear of the unknown is something we can all relate to, and claiming asylum, you don’t really know what’s going to happen. For me, going through the asylum process—not being permitted to work, recourse of public funds or provide for myself. I felt like an “other” in society. And that in the long term can lead to mental health issues,” he continued.
Through MRI, Tahiri was able to find a sense of community and belonging. He was empowered to understand his rights and today helps other LGBTI asylum seekers through his work at MRI. “I am thankful to MRI for helping me to realise my potential," he added.
Rebecca Naylor then explained how pro bono lawyers can engage with the refugee crisis through direct engagement. In 2016, following the EU-Turkey deal, Reed Smith sent groups of its lawyers on week-long assignments to provide direct assistance to refugees in Greece, facilitated “Know Your Rights” workshops, and supported Greek lawyers on the ground.
For more information on TrustLaw, visit www.trust.org/trustlaw/