Students showing their support for refugees in Berlin
Students showing their support for refugees in Berlin

In 2015, over 800,000 refugees arrived in Germany. But refugees from conflict-ridden areas had already begun trickling in since the early 2000s. The Refugee Law Clinic, run by law students of the University of Cologne, was established in 2013 to advise asylum seekers who arrived in the country.

"The idea of law clinics was popular in America, where they had them since the 19th century. Law students used the concept to gain practical experience while they were at university and at the same time offer free legal counselling to the needy," Shaghayegh Kazemloo, co-chairwoman at the Refugee Law Clinic in Cologne, told InfoMigrants.

The clinic offers legal advice to refugees and asylum seekers, because its members feel that that section of people needs help. The law clinic in Cologne is a club founded by students. The organization focuses on clarifying legal cases for its clients, making them aware of further options and directing them to registered lawyers.

How it works

"Our work begins when the client gets in touch with us. This can be done in different ways and the cheapest way is to come to us during our consultation hours, which take place on the first and third Thursday of each month," Kazemloo explained. These meetings take place from 1730 to 1930 (CET) at the Ankerstrasse 15 in Cologne. The clinic also has a telephone number listed on its website, and interested persons can reach a counsellor from 10 in the morning to 1430 (CET) from Monday to Friday. The email address is info@lawcliniccologne.com.

Asylum seekers and refugees interested in getting advice can drop in during the free consultation hours and ask questions. The clinic’s members also recommend bringing relevant documents for the meeting, so the counsellor – a student of the university - can give advice straight away, if possible. Smaller cases can usually be dealt with immediately, but if the members think that a particular case needs more examining, then the client is asked to fill out a form and his or her case is forwarded to a registered lawyer.

"We get different kinds of cases. Most often, we have clients who have received some kind of decision from the BAMF [Federal Office for Migration and Refugees] and don’t know what to do next. We also help clients to prepare for hearings and also accompany him to the hearing. We also get many cases related to bringing clients’ families to Germany," Kazemloo elaborated, adding that the clinic’s work mainly concentrates on the administrative side of legal counselling.

The clinic has anywhere between 20 and 60 clients at any given time. Their number also depends upon the number of counsellors available for the task. Currently, the clinic’s database includes volunteers who can speak French, English, Arabic and Persian.

Refugee law clinic, Cologne

Volunteers at the law clinic

Currently, the clinic has over 300 volunteers and its counselors are usually law students, but students qualifying in social work often participate in activities.  Anyone interested in the clinic’s work can participate. "However, they must fulfil certain criteria," Kazemloo says. "They must attend a lecture on introduction to asylum law. Any person intending to volunteer with us must participate in the course and write a test at the end of it. This is because the course is not mandatory at our university. The lectures are organized by lawyers in the law clinics’ advisory board," she adds.

Interested students are then asked to initially work with experienced counselors and must commit to two more trainings on asylum law. Every 14 days, the law clinic undergoes monitoring, which is done by an experienced counselor, a lawyer from the advisory board and university professors. This enables counsellors to ask questions regarding difficult cases.

The Refugee Law Clinic does not offer legal services in the conventional sense. "We are a group of well-educated students who have trained in this subject. We have a good support base and many lawyers who can help us. We can therefore guarantee good legal advice- but only up to a certain point. When we realize that the case needs a registered lawyer, then we forward it to the suitable person in the advisory board," Kazemloo explained."

The Cologne law clinic is not the only one of its kind. Across Germany, there are over 20 different law clinics. All of them are different in their organization style. There is also an umbrella organization for all law clinics in Germany, which allows us to network better," Kazemloo explained.

Until now, reactions to the law clinic have been good. "Unfortunately, there is a need for this kind of an initiative," Kazemloo said,adding, "because so many refugees are coming, local administrations are overburdened and there is no place to go for help - as far as refugees are concerned."

 

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