Clients’ non-legal needs are often more pressing than resolving the client’s legal migration status or human rights claims. However, the restricted mandate of legal aid providers – necessary to maintain service quality and efficiency – means they are far from able to attend to the comprehensive range of needs their client has.
Nonetheless, seeking comprehensive justice for your clients should be an overall goal for your organization. While you may play a part in seeking legal justice, this is often meaningless without psychological healing, physical rehabilitation, adaptation to a new way of life and other processes that enable refugees to put trauma behind and move on with their lives.
It is therefore important to facilitate your clients’ contact with other service providers mandated and able to assist with other facets of their quest for justice. On a more practical level, referring clients to other service providers may help them meet their immediate needs for shelter, food, clothing or other necessities.
In the quest for durable solutions, resettlement may or may not be an option in your context. Referring a client to UNHCR for resettlement is advisable in protection cases or urgent medical cases, as well as in other instances, though the latter may not always be successful or fast-moving.
Legal cases to regularize migration status may take a long time to resolve, resulting in difficulties in accessing basic services while a client is ‘irregular’ or undocumented in a country. These immediate needs may therefore also be prolonged over years.
You must build up a directory of referral organizations as soon as possible. This involves mapping local service providers and building relationships with as many as possible in order to ensure pro-bono attention for refugees. Your referral directory should include both crisis and long-term support sources.
A mapping activity should take place before you even begin to offer legal services. It should not look exclusively at refugee-oriented services, but could take in local services aimed at citizens e.g. homeless charities, food banks, faith groups. It is advisable to contact all your mapped organizations and service providers and introduce yourself and explain about the situation of refugees in your area if they are unfamiliar.
Notify your contacts if there are gaps in your directory. It may be possible that private services (e.g. health, language learning, yoga, bicycle maintenance) exist whose practitioners or staff would be willing to allow refugees and asylum seekers to attend or participate for free.
When making referrals, the following practical considerations should be taken into account:
- Many organizations use referral forms which ask a number of personal details of the client in question in order to justify attention, free or otherwise. Remember to stick to the principles of confidentiality that characterize client-adviser relationships. If there is important information that the client is not comfortable with you disclosing to a third party which is a requirement on the referral form, state that the question cannot be answered and call the referral organization to discuss your concerns.
- Always try and establish a personal connection or rapport with someone at the agency or organization to which you are referring a client. Speaking on the phone or having an email exchange will help smooth the transfer for the client, and help make sure attention at the other end is personable and welcoming.
- Note that it is often necessary for you to book the client an appointment with another service provider yourself, as they may not have access to the internet or be able to make phone calls, due to financial or linguistic barriers, or fear of navigating institutional procedures. Try to guide the client through the appointment booking process so as to further their empowerment.
- Make sure the client knows when and where their appointment with your partner service provider is, and how to get there. You may need to print off maps and write down directions and instructions, and check that your client understands by asking them to repeat the route and time back to you.
- Print small appointment cards to be given to clients with the essential information regarding their appointment: time, place, service, staff member who made the referral / took the booking / will see your client.
- Your organization may decide to provide discretionary funding for clients to travel to appointments at other offices.