Alliance South Belfast representatives Anna Lo MLA and Cllr Paula Bradshaw, have welcomed the Justice Minister’s decision to maintain legal aid for immigration advice and refugee family reunion issues.
The two local Alliance politicians recently met with a delegation from the Refugee and Asylum Forum, who were concerned about the potential removal of legal aid for family reunion applications for refugees. The Forum put forward a comprehensive argument for ensuring that refugees can continue to access legal aid assistance when they apply for entry visas to allow their families to come to the UK. The delegates emphasised that the cost to the public purse is usually only £300 per application and the process can only be conducted by specifically trained legal professionals.
The Department of Justice had consulted on the potential removal of this legal aid assistance in the consultation process on the reform of the Scope of Legal Aid which was conducted earlier this year. However, the Justice Minister has responded to the local Alliance Party representatives to confirm that, following the representations made by the Refugee and Asylum Forum, this aspect of legal aid provision will not be removed.
Anna Lo MLA said: “I am sympathetic to the call to continue to provide legal aid for family reunification applications on humanitarian grounds – refugees have the right for family life under the UN Convention for Human Rights. As we know, many of the asylum seekers would have to wait for many years to get the refugee status and what sustains them very often is the hope that they may be reunited with their spouse and children one day.”
Cllr Paula Bradshaw, representing the Balmoral DEA on Belfast City Council added: “We were very keen to present their concerns to the Justice Minister and were even more delighted when we received a positive response. The Alliance Party is keen to ensure that everyone coming to Northern Ireland is treated with dignity and respect. I know that the Minister is working hard to ensure that, in the face of cuts to his budget, access to legal aid is protected for the most vulnerable in our community. This decision reflects that commitment.”
NOTE TO EDITORS:
The Refugee and Asylum Forum is an unconstituted group of organisations that have day-to-day expertise in delivering services to asylum seekers and refugees, or providing support.
Refugees granted permission to stay in the country are entitled, under UK and international law, to apply for family reunion.
The Consultation process on the reform of the Scope of Legal Aid closed on 30thJanuary 2015.