Objectives & History
- To support refugees in their search for solutions by offering pro bono legal advice on issues relating to asylum determination, settlement of migrants, family reunification and other matters relating to the enjoyment of fundamental human rights.
- To provide psychosocial services to empower refugees to present their testimonies at interviews conducted with state authorities or with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and help refugees deal emotionally and mentally with their past and present struggles.
- To advance education of the public, in particular lawyers and paralegals, in matters relating to forced migration and law affecting refugees in Africa and the Middle East.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, as well as the 1969 Organisation of African Unity, prohibit states from returning refugees to a place where their lives could be threatened (the principle of "non-refoulement") on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. A fair refugee status determination (RSD) is essential to identify those who should benefit from the conventions covering specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa and to ensure that governments comply with their obligations. Without just and efficient RSD processes, states can - and do - return refugees to places where they face persecution, detention and even death.
Asylum seekers need to receive guidance and to have access to legal aid at all stages of asylum procedures. Refugees are very seldom able to pay for legal assistance. Many asylum seekers remain unrepresented because there are too few pro bono lawyers and legal volunteers around the world. Living without documents and without UNHCR or government protection places them at risk of detention, refoulement and other infringements of their basic human rights.
Today, throughout the Middle East and Africa, increasingly RSD is being decided on an individual basis, and claims are increasingly adjudicated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) rather than by governments. In the Middle East, few governments have signed the 1951 Convention, and even where they have, UNHCR has frequently assumed the responsibility for RSD. Legal aid - especially in status determination - is the right of all refugees. That right has too often been neglected or denied.
Legal assistance is essential in order to help asylum seekers win recognition as refugees. The post 9/11 world is one of increasing restrictions on asylum, narrowing immigration policies and growing sentiments of xenophobia and suspicion, not to mention the government measures enacted and implemented today in the name of enhanced security. The need for pro bono representation in Africa and the Middle East, indeed, throughout the South, is more urgent than ever.
African and Middle East Assistance (AMERA) was founded as a UK Charity in January 2003 (Registered Charity No. 1098788) to promote the development of pro bono legal aid for refugees in countries where such services are non-existent and where legal representation might assist them in realizing their rights. The awareness of this need came out of several years of research in Africa and the Mediterranean region by founding members of the charity that revealed the appalling conditions in which most refugees live and the failure of states to protect them.
With the exception of the some provision for legal aid in South Africa after 1993, the Refugee Law Project, part of the Faculty of Law at Makerere University, begun in 1997 (and made offically a clinic attached to the Makerere Facuty of Law in 1999, and the Refugee Consortiuum in Kenya, established in 1998, were the first sources of legal aid for refugees in the entire global south. In Cairo, The Refugee Legal Aid Project began in 2000. Born out of the experience of these years of work in Uganda, Kenya and Egypt, AMERA-UK aims to support and to stimulate the development of further refugee legal aid projects throughout Africa and the Middle East.
AMERA-UK's role is to nurture and coordinate emerging projects, ensure high standards of pro bono legal representation and to raise money for the growing network of pro bono refugee legal aid offices.
The Southern Refugee Legal Aid Network was born in 2007. At a conference in Nairobi, the 'Nairobi Code', an ethical code for providers of legal aid for refugees, was devised. Nairobi Code. The Southern Refugee Legal Aid Network's secretariat is the Fahamu Refugee Programme, see more at about SRLAN.