Refugee Solidarity Network (RSN) – Refugee Rights Turkey (RRT) Pro Bono Pilot Project

This month’s Global Refugee Forum Legal Community Pledge spotlight is on signatories, Refugee Solidarity Network (RSN) and Refugee Rights Turkey (RRT) and their pro bono partnership pilot project with, two Istanbul-based law firms – GKC Partners (a local affiliate of White & Case LLP) and Dündar & Sir. 

What is the gap the pro bono model is trying to address?

In Turkey, the world’s largest host country, there is limited capacity and specialization among the legal aid community to meet the needs of over 4 million refugees. Given the need for greater know-how and familiarity for legal aid attorneys on refugee matters, and the limited capacity and funding for specialized refugee NGOs, there is a great deal of potential for enhanced coordination and synergy within the legal field and civil society. 

Within this context, RSN started a pro bono pilot project in partnership with national NGO legal service provider, Refugee Rights Turkey (RRT), in order to expand RRT’s capacity by way of legal research and assistance with group counseling. 

How was the project structured?

The first ever collaboration of its kind in Turkey, the RSN-RRT Pilot Project focused on legal research, know-your-rights information, and group counseling. The pilot project engaged two Istanbul-based law firms.  

By considering contextual sensitivities, perspectives and organizational needs, RSN and RRT determined that the pilot project should focus on legal research, resource-development and group counseling.

The ensuing pilot was designed to expand the content of existing know-your-rights counseling presentations on two broad topics affecting refugees: i) workplace and employment rights and ii) civil law proceedings regarding marriage and divorce, and preventive and protective measures against sexual and gender-based violence. The subject matter of the presentations was informed by questions and feedback from refugees themselves and the legal research was conducted in direct response to the refugee community’s needs. 

Beginning with a legal research phase, participating law firms reviewed RRT’s existing materials and carried out further legal research on the respective topics. The firms then incorporated their findings by proposing updates and changes to the content of RRT’s presentations. The pro bono attorneys then joined the NGO lawyers in group counseling sessions and assisted with the delivery of the know-your-rights presentations to refugee clients of RRT. Refugees were also active participants in the counseling sessions. 

Key features of the pro bono collaboration included clearly defined roles and strong coordination between the NGOs and law firm partners; consideration of the most appropriate thematic scope and modalities for a pro bono partnership within the local context; identification of specific research questions for the volunteer lawyers to explore; and investments in training for pro bono attorneys on the local asylum system and relevant legislation, and facilitation of practical exchanges of experience. 

What is the impact of this project?

As a direct result of the RSN-RRT Pilot Project, group counseling sessions were delivered to approximately 100 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Cameroon, Nigeria,  Côte d’Ivoire, and Congo. The Pilot Project also expanded and improved the content of the information session materials previously developed by the NGOs, and the information was used in subsequent group counseling sessions as well. 

Participation in the RSN-RRT Pilot Project also provided participants with key insights into how pro bono partnerships between NGOs and law firms can be developed in the future, to further strengthen refugees’ access to justice in Turkey. 

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