Helping some of Australia's most vulnerable women
Legal advice that's changing lives
Women and people who identify as female and are seeking asylum, are some of the most vulnerable in Australia. Having risked their lives to flee their home countries, they've often left behind their children and family, and face many barriers to accessing financial or other forms of support in Australia. They have experienced sexual, gender, domestic or family-based violence in their countries of origin, or fear they will face it if they return. The Refugee Advice and Caseworks Service (RACS)* is helping these women navigate one of the most complex and important legal processes they'll ever go through - and Allens is proud to support their work.
Established in 2019, Women at Risk is a project run jointly by RACS and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Women’s Space. The project was designed to provide women seeking asylum and refugees with focused assistance and support through legal advice and casework. RACS is the only dedicated community legal centre in NSW providing legal support at no cost to people seeking asylum.
The work of the project is life changing: providing them with legal support to apply for protection visas, making referrals to support services and ensuring they feel supported in a safe space. Frequently victims of abuse, these women can be fearful of partners tracking them down. During COVID and its mandatory restrictions, many were placed in unsafe situations, as they lost the ability to leave their homes easily or seek assistance.
Allens has been proud to support the RACS Women at Risk project for the past two years. Secondee lawyer, Nicola Colagiuri, has been providing ongoing advice to the project by helping women seeking asylum with their protection visa applications, preparing statements and collecting evidence. She has also assisted them in preparing for interviews, which may occur in front of the Department of Home Affairs, or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal if they have to appeal a decision; as well as providing general support for women navigating their way through the protection visa application process, such as assisting with work rights applications, or referring people to services where they can receive the support they need.
'For many women, this is the first time someone has actually listened to them, and they are so thankful for the support,' said Nicola.
'Building trust is vital, as they are often very fearful of authorities,' Nicola said.
Hannah Gray, Senior Solicitor at RACS, said: 'We couldn't run the project without the assistance of secondees. The work they do is invaluable to these women.'
The project has already yielded benefits, especially at the primary stage of the application process. Having a service that is dedicated to assisting people seeking asylum in this way helps these women through one of the most testing periods of their new lives.
For more information about RACS and the work it does, see its website.
*RACS provides legal advice and support to people of all nationalities, religions, sexual and gender identity with the aim to achieve justice and dignity for refugees through the provision of effective legal services and influential advocacy.