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New legal support helps refugee children rejoin their families

By Ann Marie Foley - 21 November, 2019

Service will ensure that unaccompanied children referred by their social workers and aftercare workers are matched with pro bono legal help.

First training for lawyers to support refugee children

At least 30 refugee children could be helped to start the process of reunification with their families during the next year.

This is according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) and the Irish Refugee Council (IRC), who are to set up a legal and support service for unaccompanied children granted refugee status in Ireland. Along with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), they will help these children bring their families to live in Ireland.

Catherine Cosgrave, Managing Solicitor, ICI, said that this work with unaccompanied children is crucial and very timely. “We know the best way to support children to integrate is with the help and support of their families, but there are many challenges to reunification”.

Under Irish law, children are entitled to family reunification, but they are not currently allowed state-provided legal aid. Without this legal help the children do not know how to apply, and even if they do, the application process is impossibly difficult for them to navigate. They can also easily miss the short time window to reunite with their families.

Through this collaborative service, Independent Law Centres of ICI and IRC will ensure that unaccompanied children referred by their social workers and aftercare workers are matched with pro bono legal help.

They will use the tried and tested KIND model, available in the United States for more than a decade, to train and mentor private-sector pro bono lawyers working in Ireland.

This training will prepare lawyers to represent children in their family reunification applications. The project will also train social care professionals to support refugee children and young people through the process.

“Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is thrilled to join with the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Refugee Council to help children in Ireland reunite with family they left behind in very difficult circumstances,” said KIND President, Wendy Young.

“The importance of these children reuniting with family members cannot be underestimated. Family can help these kids deal with the trauma of their experiences so they can move more easily towards a brighter future,” she said.

Many of children who have arrived in Ireland have left their families in war-torn countries including Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Albania and Ethiopia. These children may have travelled overland by foot, and crossed borders, deserts and seas, often finding themselves in very dangerous situations. Some have been under threat of forced conscription to armies, and others in danger of persecution because of their religion or ethnicity. Others were trafficked to Europe.

Ireland does not participate in the EU Family Reunification Directive 2003/86/EC. Refugee family reunification entitlements are provided for in Ireland by sections 56–58 of the International Protection Act 2015.

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