Advocacy by Accompaniment is a fairly new term used to describe the practice of escorting a client through processes to address a violation or infringement of their basic rights. This practice first gained popularity within victims advocacy efforts in domestic violence and sexual assault cases as a way to prevent re-victimization of the injured party.
In the refugee context, this type of work can be particularly useful in building leadership within the community by empowering the refugee client to take charge of his or her life through the use of legal and administrative channels; channels which, even where they are available to refugees, continue to be perceived as threatening or inaccessible to them.
What Right is Being Addressed?:
An accompaniment may be necessary under a variety of different circumstances. For example, a client may have experienced discrimination when attempting to register for Social Security. Another may come to you because she is having trouble registering her children at school. Another may be dealing with access to healthcare. Each of these clients may need an accompaniment but each case addresses a different right. It is important to know which right that is so that the legal advocate may prepare for the visit to the proper authority with full knowledge of the law and legal procedure surrounding that right in the particular context.
It is important to keep both short and long term goals in mind. Short term, the accompaniment must address the refugee’s immediate need. Long term, the advocate may seek to make access to this right easier in general. Also, one should keep in mind what the root issue is in terms of why the client is having this problem. Whether the root cause is institutional, social, political, etc… will affect what our approach will be. While the legal context is very important, the advocate should be focused on the particular obstacles the client is facing. Addressing them directly will help the client have a clear picture of how to deal with this issue in the future.
Accompaniment rests on the client knowing their rights and how to claim them. While the client should walk away from an accompaniment with a basic understanding of the law, the more important outcome should be that they gain the experience and knowledge to overcome future obstacles. Accompaniment seeks to have refugees and asylum seekers become multipliers, promoting change in the wider human rights system. Clients should be the main actor in seeking their rights, even when accompanied: this role can contribute to their comprehensive rehabilitation and empowers them to build their new life in the country of asylum. The advocate’s approach should be catered to the specific goal of the case without losing sight of the broader goal of empowerment and the long term goals for continuing advocacy on the issue.
Accompaniment may be the first step of a long-term empowerment plan, and can contribute to an individual’s growing sense of autonomy and independence. For this reason it is crucial to afford your client the space and opportunity to express themselves when you are accompanying them, in order to strengthen their confidence (whilst retaining the possibility of backing them up or supporting them if necessary).
Advocacy by accompaniment also has implications for political advocacy on an institutional or public level, as accompaniment processes can spread awareness of refugee rights among service-providers and others with whom refugee clients have experienced injustice. Indeed accompaniment should be seen as an opportunity to create a space in which to advocate for refugee rights before public institutions, civil servants or other bodies. The resultant relationships and awareness should contribute to the cessation of discrimination towards refugees in such contexts. The accompanying legal adviser serves as a watchdog, and reminds institutions and individuals that someone is monitoring and documenting the treatment of refugees.
Situations in which obstacles in RSD or access to rights processes may necessitate accompaniment:
- Serious rights violations which have not been solved by ordinary channels,
- New arrivals who are still emotionally affected and have difficulties navigating a new context,
- Cases in which people suffered persecution at the hands of the authorities and still mistrust official systems,
- Instances of discrimination.
Client profiles which may require accompaniment:
- Illiterate clients,
- Indigenous or rural clients who have never navigated administrative procedures or are unaware of the workings of institutions,
- Differently abled clients who may have difficulties understanding processes,
- Elderly individuals,
The below materials are aimed at practitioners who would like to incorporate advocacy by accompaniment in their programming. The focus of this lesson is the implementation of accompaniment as part of a comprehensive program to use the law as a tool to empower the refugee.
- Advocacy by Accompaniment – Trainer’s Guide
- Advocacy by Accompaniment – Presentation
- Advocacy by Accompaniment – Summary Sheet
- Advocacy by Accompaniment – Summary Sheet Answer Key
- Advocacy by Accompaniment – Brainstorming Exercise
It is important for the trainer to be attuned to the specific needs of the group and to tailor these materials to suit them. You should view the training tools as a resource and not as a must-do manual. Although all the sessions have been tried and tested in many different contexts and with a variety of actors, the materials will always need some level of adaptation to suit your specific audience or context.
Trainer’s Guide: This guide is designed to help the trainer lead the lesson and discussion. It gives a slide-by-slide script that may be used as-is or adapted to suit the particular needs of the group.
Presentation: This PowerPoint presentation covers the general and most important area within the broader topic. You should feel free to modify it to include local considerations.
Summary Sheet: This Summary Sheet has been developed for use as a guide for participants to follow along with the presentation and to record the major takeaways of the lesson. Alternatively, it may be used as a quiz at the conclusion of the lesson to refresh the major points of the presentation and to facilitate a discussion of the material in greater depth. Trainers may choose to give participants a hard copy of the sheet that may be filled out manually or they may make available the electronic version which has been created as a fill-in-the-blank document. Keep in mind that the Summary Sheet was created as an accompaniment to the presentation and the corresponding notes as provided in the Trainer’s Manual. Any adjustments to the presentation must also be made to the summary sheet accordingly.
Summary Sheet Answer Key: The participants’ version of the Summary Sheet will have blanks where the Answer Key provides the answers in capital underlined words.
Brainstorming Exercise: This exercise will help you begin to think about good practices that should be implemented from the beginning, as your work in the area of advocacy by accompaniment develops.