Cuts shut down refugee legal service putting lives at risk

Charities, clergy and prominent figures including Colin Firth and Michael Morpurgo have greeted with rage and dismay news that Refugee and Migrant Justice is being allowed to shut down.

Refugee and Migrant Justice, formerly the Refugee Legal Centre, was the largest specialist national provider of legal representation to asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants.

RMJ was awarded the Liberty/Justice Human Rights Award in 2005, in particular for its litigation work with Zimbabwean asylum seekers. Last week RMJ went into administration as a direct result of the government's refusal to make legal aid payment until after cases are closed.

The collapse will deny legal representation to some of the most vulnerable members of our communities including survivors of torture, trafficked women and children, unaccompanied minors and those who have experienced rape and sexual abuse.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warned before the collapse: "Lives will be put at risk and there are likely to be many more miscarriages of justice - which are already common in our asylum system."

Colin Firth, actor, said: "RMJ has been one of the very few means by which the most vulnerable, voiceless, often traumatised people in our country can be accorded their basic human rights. Their collapse is disastrous. To deprive so many innocent people of legal protection (the same basic rights we allow our criminals) raises serious questions about the nature of our society  ... and our right to consider ourselves civilised."

John Packer,  Anglican Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said yesterday: "Refugee and Migrant Justice is among the few organisations fighting for the legal rights of asylum seekers.   It is hard to see how any government or society with a concern for justice could allow it to cease its work."

"Only today I have been contacted by the family of a man who was tortured in his country of origin and has bouts of severe depression. He has been released from detention and has no legal representation. I have no idea where I will find him help. People at risk of imprisonment and death in their own country face being returned because there is no one to represent them," said Esme Madill from Refugee Action, York.
"Because of a shortage of legal representation in Wales, especially for refused asylum seekers, Welsh Refugee Council had been working closely with RMJ to support them to establish offices in Wales in 2010. The loss of this excellent organisation leaves a gap which it will be hard to fill," Mike Lewis Chief Executive, Welsh Refugee Council

John Wilkes, Chief Executive of Scottish Refugee Council, said: "We are truly shocked to hear this news. Many asylum seekers in Scotland are moved to detention centres in England where they must continue defending their claim under the English legal system. Without access to legal representation ­ which RMJ play a large part in providing ­ the likelihood is many of them won¹t get access to justice.

"The coalition government has pledged to speed up the asylum system. But the RMJ's announcement increases our ongoing concerns that a faster system means an unfair system. Those fleeing persecution, war and the threat of death need access to the law to prove their case for protection. Without that access we risk seeing people being forced to return to situations of grave danger without a proper hearing."

"The late payment of fees for services rendered would cause any organisation problems. To expect Refugee and Migrant Justice to wait in some instances up to two years to be paid is counterproductive for all concerned because of the role they play in ensuring our asylum system functions effectively and fairly. I hope the Government will see sense on this issue and steps in to resolve this problem," said Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow

Dr Simon Parker, coordinator End Child Detention Now, said: "I am outraged and dismayed that RMJ has been forced to close and urge the government to step in now and save this crucial life line for people seeking sanctuary. This closure will deny thousands of vulnerable people the right to have their asylum cases properly considered. No civilised society can subject people to the control of the state without them having the right to
Writer Michael Morpurgo said: "Already deprived of their liberty, now we would deprive them of their hope. How wretched for them. How shameful for us"

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