Lawyers making a difference: Helping refugees and the vulnerable find safety and protection

In less than a week of war, over 1 million people have been made refugees

For many, joining the legal profession is a choice – a choice to make a difference.  To help protect individuals, groups, companies, and the voiceless through advancing the rule of law.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that global forced displacement has surpassed 84 million at mid-2021. An estimated 35 million (42%) of the 82.4 million forcibly displaced people are children below 18 years of age (end-2020).

As the humanitarian crisis unfolds in Ukraine, we wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to the lawyers and organisations supporting victims of war, unrest and human rights violations across the world.

In this article we highlight just some of the many lawyers using their skills to have a positive impact on society.

#1 Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, QC

Helena Kennedy is a leading barrister and an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues. She is a member of the House of Lords and chair of Justice – the British arm of the International Commission of Jurists.

As a member of the Doughty Street Chambers since 1972, Baroness Kennedy has acted in many prominent cases including the Brighton Bombing Trial, Guildford Four Appeal, the bombing of the Israeli Embassy, the abduction of Baby Abbie Humphries.

Most recently Baroness Kennedy has lobbied for the protection of female judges in Afghanistan.

Together with a group of pro-bono lawyers, she has helped charter flights to airlift 26 women judges and their families – around 130 people – from Afghanistan following the fall of Kabul to the hard line Taliban, and continues to lobby to help the many more that remain in the country under brutal Islamist rule.

“This is Schindler’s List time – these are people who are going to be killed, we have an absolute duty to not let happen what happened in the past. We have to save the lives of these women and their families.”

Baroness Kennedy

QC, Doughty Street Chambers

Baroness Kennedy has also led the opposition to encroachments on the right to jury trial and chaired an inquiry for the Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health into sudden infant death, in the aftermath of miscarriages of justice where mothers were wrongly convicted of murdering their babies. For her courageous stand against the government she was awarded the Spectator’s Parliamentary Campaigner of the Year Award in 2000.

Helena is also a seminal force in promoting equal opportunities for women at the Bar, writing and broadcasting on the discrimination experienced by women in the law, as lawyers but also as users of the law – victims and defendants. For her work for women, she received the Times Newspaper’s Lifetime Achievement award in 1999.

#2 Solange Valdez-Symonds, Solicitor and CEO, Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) ​

Solange Valdez-Symonds is supervising solicitor and CEO for Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens’ (PRCBC).

Qualifying in 2006, Solange has over 20 years’ experience in nationality and immigration law. Solange has acted in several cases to support migrant children and children born to migrant parents including, most recently, challenging the lawfulness of the Home Office’s fee to register children as British citizens.

In addition to delivering training for PRCBC and other umbrella and community organisations, Solange also does external policy and strategic work to improve the condition and rights of migrants and their family members.

Solange is co-author of article in legal journal: Reasserting Rights to British Citizenship Through Registration and contributed to the book “Citizenship in Times of Turmoil?”  which challenges the view that there are immutable values and enduring rights associated with citizenship status. Bringing together several renowned academics and lawyers working in the field of nationality and immigration laws, it considers the evolution of the contemporary issues surrounding British citizenship, integrating the social aspects and ideas of identity and belonging alongside its legal elements.

In 2014, Solange was shortlisted Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year in the immigration category. Solange is the 2017 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year in the Children’s Rights category.

#3 Hillel Neuer, Executive Director, UN Watch

Hillel Neuer is an international lawyer, writer, activist and the executive director of UN Watch, a human rights NGO and UN watchdog group.

Originally from Montreal, Neuer served as a law clerk for Justice Itzhak Zamir at the Supreme Court of Israel and practiced commercial and civil rights litigation at the international law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

Renowned for his expertise on the United Nations and human rights, Neuer is the founding chairman of Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, a coalition of 25 NGOs from around the world which provides a global platform to courageous pro-democracy dissidents from around the world who put their lives on the line to demand fundamental freedoms in oppressive regimes.

Neuer has represented human rights victims in testimony before the UN Human Rights Council – a body which he highly criticised. He has spoken out for Arab, Kurdish and Baháʼí victims of violations in Iran; victims of torture and censorship in Côte d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Nepal, Myanmar, and Pakistan; Lebanese victims of Syrian political assassinations; against the rape and enslavement of women in Syria and Iraq; state-sanctioned limits on the movements, education and employment of women in Iran; and the repression of speech in Saudi Arabia.


#4 Iryna Valentynivna Venediktova, Prosecutor General, Ukraine ​

Iryna Venediktova is a Ukrainian politician, lawyer, Doctor of Law, and professor. On 17 March 2020, Venediktova was appointed as the prosecutor general of Ukraine. She became the first female prosecutor in the history of Ukraine to chair the Prosecutor General’s Office.

In response to the invasion of Ukraine, she has submitted an application against Russia to the International Court of Justice.

Venediktova graduated with honours from Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs Faculty of Management and Computer Science, majoring in Law and Management before joining the Department of Jurisprudence at Kharkiv Humanitarian Institute of the People’s Ukrainian Academy as a lecturer in 2000.

With a career spanning 19 years in academia, as head of the Department of Civil Law at V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Venediktova was also an editorial board member of scientific publications and academic councils, authoring more than 100 scientific and scientific-methodical works published in national and foreign publications.

In 2018, Venediktova became a legal adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky before being appointed as Acting Director of the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) in 2019 – becoming the first woman in the history of Ukraine to chair a government law enforcement agency, introducing a new organisational structure of the SBI.

#5 Karim Ahmad Khan, QC, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC)

Karim Kahn is a barrister and Queen’s Counsel with more than 25 years of professional experience as an international criminal law and human rights lawyer. On 12 February 2021 he was elected as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the nineteenth session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute in New York and sworn in on the 16 June 2021.

As Prosecutor of the ICC, Khan recently announced that he will launch an investigation into possible war crimes or crimes against humanity in Ukraine based on a previous preliminary investigation on Crimea and the Donbas published in 2020, and on current events in Ukraine.

Prior to appointment to Prosecutor of the ICC, Khan was an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and served as the first Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to promote accountability for crimes committed by Da’esh/ISIL in Iraq (UNITAD) between 2018 to 2021.

He has extensive experience as a prosecutor, victim’s counsel and defence lawyer in domestic and international criminal tribunals including, but not limited to, the International Criminal Court, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He has also represented victims of human rights violations in Africa and Asia.

Khan is a Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn and was appointed a Recorder of the Crown Court in 2018. He was elected as the second President of the ICC Bar Association in July 2017 and is a worldwide Ambassador of the African Bar Association.

He has published several leading texts on international criminal law and is the co-author of ‘Archbold International Criminal Courts’, now in its 5th edition.

#6 Safe Passage – helping child refugees access legal routes to safety

Safe Passage was set up to help unaccompanied child refugees find safe legal routes to sanctuary.

Every year thousands of unaccompanied child refugees arrive in Europe in search of safety. They find themselves stuck in squalid camps or sleeping rough on city streets unaware of their legal right to travel safely through Europe and often facing dangerous and perilous journeys to reach safety.

Safe Passage is the only organisation working with children at risk on the ground in both the country they find themselves and the country they wish to reach. Once young refugees are safe, Safe Passage continue support through a volunteer Community Mentoring programme that helps refugees settle by helping them register with a GP, sign up for school and other specialist organisations.

In addition to helping identify and support child refugees who are eligible for transfer, where there are delays, they work tirelessly to ensure children remain safe from smugglers while waiting to reunite with family. They also support strategic litigations against the Home Office in instances where unlawful decisions are made on children’s cases.

The work of Safe Passage also extends to grassroots campaigning and political advocacy to make politicians aware of what needs to be done to help lone child refugees in Europe.

This includes successfully campaigning for the Dubs Amendment to the 2016 Immigration Bill, creating a new legal route to safety for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe and in 2018 successfully securing the continuation after Brexit of a legal route to family refugees in Europe.

Through the work of Safe Passage, over 1,800 child refugees have been helped so far.

Going forward Safe Passage is building a legacy for the Kindertransport on its 80th anniversary, lobbying the government to welcome 10,000 at-risk child refugees over the next 10 years.

How you can support organisations making a difference

Ukraine Advice Project – a group of volunteer legal professionals with immigration/asylum expertise set up on 28 February 2022 to provide free UK immigration and asylum advice to Ukrainian citizens affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Ukraine Crisis Legal Aid – app for listing legal aid for Ukrainians seeking asylum

Safe Passage – helping unaccompanied child refugees find safe legal routes to sanctuary

British Red Cross – Ukraine appeal

International Medical Corps – on the front lines and helping citizens with emergency health services as well as mental health and psychological support

World Vision International – providing psychological and emergency support to children whose lives have changed in an instant

Save the children – Ukraine appeal

Unicef– repairing schools damaged by the bombings and providing an emergency response to children affected by the conflict

People in Need – providing medical aid to over 200,000 people on the ground, emergency food packages and shelter, access to drinking water, food and coal

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