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MEDIA RELEASE: Legal Aid NSW launches dedicated Refugee Service

14 Feb 2017

Refugees who have settled in NSW will have access to early legal advice and will learn about their rights and responsibilities under Australian law thanks to a dedicated statewide Refugee Service established by Legal Aid NSW.

The targeted service, launched in Fairfield today by the NSW Coordinator-General of Refugee Resettlement, Professor Peter Shergold AC, will play an important role in helping refugees to make the transition to life in Australia.

Legal Aid NSW Acting CEO Richard Funston said the specialist unit would help newly arrived refugees address legal problems before they escalate.

“We know that early intervention works, and at Legal Aid NSW we have the experience and the expertise to reach refugees and resolve their legal issues long before they hit crisis point,” Mr Funston said.

“By helping refugees understand their rights and responsibilities, we hope to give them the confidence to fully participate in Australian life and become self-reliant members of our community.”

“For those who have grown up in Australia, it is easy to underestimate the extent to which law shapes our everyday lives. But every time you pay a bill, pick up the phone to talk to Centrelink, fill out a rental application, or get behind the wheel, you are relying on legal rules.”

“For refugees who are used to a very different set of rules, or come from places where the rule of law has crumbled or has become a tool that authorities use to persecute ordinary people, the justice system we take for granted in NSW can seem daunting.”

“This service will bridge that knowledge gap by taking legal education to refugee communities in a way that suits their needs.”

The Refugee Service has been made possible by a NSW Government investment of $4 million over four years, provided under the NSW Government Refugee Settlement Package.

Mr Funston said the service would be based in southwest Sydney but its reach would be statewide. A mobile service delivery approach will allow lawyers to offer free advice clinics in key settlement hubs, including Wollongong and Newcastle.

“Our Refugee Service staff includes lawyers who specialise in civil and family law, and a community engagement officer who will help us identify emerging legal and systemic issues that impact on refugees’ lives,” Mr Funston said.

“Our longstanding partnerships with settlement and migrant services have been the key for us in reaching vulnerable refugee populations and building trust.”

“The Refugee Service will allow us to step up the work we are already doing to support refugees in NSW, and we look forward to working with other agencies and organisations to support refugees as they build new lives.”

Media Contact: Sophie Tarr (02) 9213 5208 or 0419 212 334