Refugee Legal Support Athens (RLSA) is an organisation that offers free legal support and representation throughout the process of an application for itnernational protection in Athens, Greece. RLSA is a registered Charity in the UK where the main Operations Branch is based. The primary focus of the casework that we do in Athens is Asylum Interview Preparation, Preparation and Submission of Applications for family reunification under the Dublin Regulation and through national Embassies.
We started in April 2017 when we were based in the Khora Community Centre and we are currently operating out of the Athens Solidarity Centre. The way the Project has been funded so far is through independent donations from Law Firms and Chambers in the UK. We work with English legal practitioners who volunteer with RLSA on a rotating basis to show their solidarity to their Greek colleagues. Our team in Athens comprises six members of permanent staff; two coordinators, a lawyer and three amazing interpreters who identify as refugees.
From the beginning, we understood that most of the people who came to our office were men, usually fathers of a large family. They often came alone and were supposed to bring back the news to their children and partners. This very quickly made us realise how this can be severely detrimental not only to the asylum case of the women of the family but also for the future of the whole family. Women and girls in a family quite often have an asylum claim of their own but hesitate to confess or are not given the chance to just because the men of the family are the ones who make the contact with the lawyer. Men's claims are widely considered to be the strongest and most 'traditional' ones as they usually involve political dissidence and conscription. What we strongly believe is that the claims of the women applicants are often more difficult to articulate and substantiate due to lack of visibility of the persecution women face on the basis of gender, appearence and life choices. This realisation gave us ideas about how we can reach out to a wider audience so that more women access our services. In this context, we organised regular info sessions in the Women Space of the Khora Community Centre. These sessions were dedicated to explaining what asylum is, what steps one needs to take in order to join a family member in Europe and always ended with Q&As. We later reached out to Melissa Network, an organisation that offers recreational acitivities and lessons to women migrants. The remit of this partnership was to hold one-on-one sessions with women, give them time to express themselves with an all-women team of lawyers and interpreters and make them feel comfortable in a space where they feel at home.