New Zealand Law Society - Increased demand on Community Law expected as Refugee Quota increased

Increased demand on Community Law expected as Refugee Quota increased

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More refugees settling in New Zealand will mean more demand on already strained Community Law centres, a senior lawyer at Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley says.

"The increase in the refugee quota will lead to an increased need for Community Law Centres and their volunteers to provide assistance and advice with refugee family reunification. This will be a particular issue for any new resettlement location," says Megan Williams, supervisor of the law centre's Refugee and Immigration Law Advice Service.

June 19 to 25 is "Volunteer Week". Ms Williams says volunteers are the life-force of Community Law, without which many of the most vulnerable in our communities would not be able to access legal assistance.

She says countless hours are volunteered by lawyers and law students at each Community Law centre to the benefit of all New Zealanders, including newly settled refugees.

"Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley has been providing assistance with refugee family reunification since 1997 and we rely on our volunteer lawyers to ensure that we can assist as many former refugees as possible," Ms Williams says.

"The Wellington region resettles more refugees than any other resettlement centre and we anticipate that we will need to increase our volunteer base to respond to an increased demand for our services."

"Many refugees are separated from their family members, often their spouses or dependent children, during the process of fleeing their homes. These people are able to apply to be reunited with their family members when they are resettled in NZ."

However, the paperwork-heavy process meant volunteers' assistance was invaluable to family reunification applicants, Ms Williams says.

"We have recently received a one-off grant from the JR McKenzie Trust to provide refugee family reunification training, support and resources to community law centres and their volunteer advocates in other resettlement centres.

"Our immediate focus is working with Community Law Otago staff and volunteers, as Dunedin is the new resettlement city where many of the Syrian refugees are to be resettled.

"Over the next few months we will be providing training to Community Law Otago volunteers and will be providing ongoing support to them in their work with former refugees. We would hope to extend this training and support to any new resettlement city."

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