LEGAL AID IN HUMANITARIAN SETTINGS: A NEW REPORT
INTERSOS is pleased to share its latest lessons learned report – Provision of Legal Aid in Humanitarian Settings, which was produced following a pledge made at the first Global Refugee Forum in December 2019. The research was based on years of learning in providing these services in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen and other countries. It highlights the importance of providing legal services including assistance, awareness, counselling, and representation to individuals and communities in the humanitarian contexts, as a tool to help minimise their distress and to ensure the essential protection is provided.
Millions of people forcibly displaced by conflicts, disasters and other problems are living in extremely difficult humanitarian and economic conditions, and are experiencing major challenges in accessing food, WASH, shelter, protection, health, and other basic services. COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating these challenges, increasing the vulnerability of forcibly displaced, particularly women, boys and girls, older people, people living with disabilities, and marginalised populations.
One of the greatest challenges experienced, especially by those living in remote and hard to reach areas, concerns a lack of access to legal services, legal documents, potentially impacting their status, ability to access humanitarian assistance, social protection and other services, apply for the right to resettlement in third countries, or receive legal assistance in other situation of injustice.
Therefore, providing legal aid to forcibly displaced populations is an essential requirement in ensuring protection and achieving durable solutions, including access to employment and livelihoods, regulating residency status, avoiding risk of statelessness, detention or deportation, as well as obtaining legal representation for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual and gender-based violence or other forms of violence.
The report highlights the following key recommendations:
Humanitarian agencies providing legal aid services should:
- Engage in advocacy to raise awareness of legal aid in humanitarian settings;
- Ensure that they have clear procedures and guidelines in place, including confidentiality and data protection protocols and eligibility criteria;
- Build community engagement & build relationships with national and local authorities;
- Improve the geographical coverage of this work, including the use of mobile legal services units and explore and expand remote provision of legal aid if capacities and access allow;
- Strengthen information-management staffing, to enable the analysis of trends and to facilitate the use of data for advocacy purposes;
- Invest in supporting national/local legal talent from the communities in which they are operating;
- Include indicators in legal aid projects to measure the contribution towards building national and/or local legal aid systems.
Humanitarian leadership (HCT, HC, Inter-Cluster Coordination, Cluster Leads) should:
- Support humanitarians’ legal aid work through high-level advocacy to press for law and policy reforms affecting beneficiaries’ rights and to improve access to beneficiaries for legal services providers;
- Give increased recognition to the role of legal aid in enabling conflict- and crisis-affected people to access their rights;
- Engage the leadership of other relevant clusters (e.g. food security, education), not just the Protection Cluster, in advocacy for beneficiaries’ rights;
- Ensure that Protection Clusters and their Subclusters and Task Forces are adequately staffed & that Protection Clusters establish Legal Task Forces where their establishment would facilitate legal services work;
- Through the Protection Clusters and Legal Working Groups, establish common standards for legal aid work, and agreed modalities and processes offered by the humanitarian legal actors locally;
- Support the engagement of national and local legal aid organisations and lawyers in humanitarian coordination mechanisms.
Donor Governments should:
- Support longer-term projects for legal aid services, with the understanding that these services take significant time to establish successfully;
- Provide political support via their embassies, playing a partner role on advocacy to press for conflict and crisis-affected people’s rights to be central to political and peace-building processes, including their rights to access justice and legal aid;
- Allow for flexibility of funding to facilitate legal aid services in changing contexts, including flexibility over target areas to facilitate referrals of cases;
- Provide funding for information-management support for humanitarian agencies engaging in legal aid services;
- Support humanitarian agencies’ efforts to build capacity in national and local legal services;
- Create an enabling environment for respect of conflict-and crisis-affected people’s rights.