Representing refugees and asylum seekers in Europe in their immigration cases pro bono is a nascent movement that is quickly growing thanks to KIND and our partners. For the last five years, we have been leading the change, building a network of pro bono lawyers to help children access legal assistance, reunify with their families, and seek permanent residency and citizenship in their new countries. So far, we have worked with over 700 pro bono lawyers from 50+ law firms and companies on cases that helped more than 3,000 children. We are celebrating this success during Pro Bono Week in Europe this week.
Pro bono legal services in Europe had focused on governance issues or research for nongovernmental organizations, but since KIND started its work in Europe in 2019, we have been working to bring our pro bono representation model to Europe. As in the United States, KIND employs a robust model of training and mentoring of pro bono lawyers by experts within KIND’s partner nongovernmental organizations, sharing the knowledge, tools, and ongoing support the attorneys need to work in an area of law that is unfamiliar to them. In Ireland, France, Italy, Greece and Poland, KIND and our partners are responding to local legal needs, expanding the pool of lawyers with expertise in this area of law, and multiplying the number of children who can be served. KIND is the only organization to do this solely in support of unaccompanied children.
One of the very understandable hesitations of potential pro bono lawyers is that they don’t want to get it wrong. These are kids whose lives are on the line, and working in competition or tax law doesn’t prepare you for that, so the prospect of representing an unaccompanied child seems out of reach. KIND’s model gives them the confidence and structure to take that step. The positive impact of a pro bono lawyer’s support lasts far beyond the individual asylum interview or family reunification application they’re working on; it changes the trajectory of the rest of the children’s lives.
Drawing on the expertise we’ve gained in the United States and the United Kingdom, KIND has helped partner organizations like the Italian Refugee Council (CIR) set up their own pro bono model adapted to their specific local context. Prior to working with KIND, CIR had limited experience working with pro bono partners. KIND helped set them up to work with pro bono lawyers: connecting them with pro bono partners from KIND’s global network, advising on the types of cases that would be suitable for pro bono lawyers, and sharing sample agreements, handbooks and training resources that could be adapted to the Italian context.
Another key pillar of KIND’s model is ensuring that legal services provided to unaccompanied children are trauma-informed. This means preparing our nongovernmental and pro bono partners to understand and be sensitive to the trauma experiences and responses of the children they work with, and to recognize the signs of trauma or burn-out in themselves as they do this work. We offer training and guidance on trauma-informed lawyering, as well as a dedicated program of support to protect and uphold the well-being of frontline staff within our partner nongovernmental organizations.
In addition to building local pro bono initiatives in support of unaccompanied children in Europe, KIND has also built a pan-European network of organizations, experts, and pro bono partners that can provide support in transnational cases, such as family reunification; exchange best practices around common issues, including age assessments; and join forces to advocate for better protections for unaccompanied children under regional E.U. laws and policies, such as the new Pact on Migration and Asylum.
Working with pro bono lawyers allows KIND to better protect unaccompanied children. We have seen that as pro bono lawyers work on more and more cases, they start to see the systemic problems that get in the way of children accessing their rights. They get frustrated by this and start asking what can be done to fix things. We’ve seen pro bono lawyers support the drafting of a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, contribute to consultations on access to legal aid, and gather and analyze data on delays in legal processes that local nongovernmental organizations can use in their own advocacy work.
One of KIND’s pro bono partner law firms in Ireland shared the following feedback on their experience:
We are delighted with the way in which the KIND project has taken off in our Dublin office since we signed up in 2021. The training and support that we have received has made it possible for our commercial lawyers to take on family reunification cases. This is a completely new area of law for us, but our lawyers have confidence to take these cases because we can turn to expert lawyers whenever we have questions. Almost every lawyer in our Dublin office has now signed up to take a case.”
On European Pro Bono Week 2023, KIND offers our sincerest gratitude to all of the pro bono lawyers, firms, and companies that have made it possible for us to impact the lives of so many children in Europe. Thank you all. Read more about KIND’s work in Europe here.
Marieanne McKeown is KIND’s Director of Partnerships and Pro Bono Programs in Europe