With the goal of strengthening the pro bono ecosystem of local actors working to advance access to justice for refugees, PILnet and partners have supported the development of a national-level pro bono coordination mechanism in Thailand. This pilot project is the first of its kind to be developed in line with the objectives of the Global Refugee Forum Legal Community Pledge (the Pledge) to take a multi-stakeholder and partnership approach to increasing access to legal assistance for refugees and others forcibly displaced around the globe.
An intensive scoping exercise, led by a local Thai lawyer and which involved four consultative workshops in 2021, identified gaps in legal provision and coordination which could be addressed through a pilot project focused on enhancing local coordination. A local Thai legal assistance NGO, Refugee Rights Litigation Project (RRLP), agreed to act as the host of the project, with funding and technical support provided by PILnet, members of the Pledge Core Group, and other NGOs in the legal and refugee sector in Thailand.
The pilot project coordination mechanism, led by a Thai lawyer, was launched in 2022 and is a platform for NGOs and RLOs to refer cases to be matched with legal professionals who can provide free legal help. In the first year of the project, over 20 cases were successfully matched. RRLP and PILnet have also actively worked together to conduct outreach and train Thai lawyers and hosted a roundtable to connect NGOs and RLOs with the lawyers. The pilot project contributed to several positive outcomes. It increased availability and quality of direct legal assistance for refugees, including in several instances where legal assistance NGOs did not have capacity to assist an individual and pro bono lawyers were able to provide assistance. Through the project NGO lawyers also benefited from receiving advice about Thai law and practice while also being able to ask research questions to pro bono lawyers. The project also addresses some of the capacity constraints faced by legal assistance NGOs; as pro bono support has enabled NGOs to take on more cases and to focus their efforts on more complex cases.
The scoping exercise and consultative process involving NGOs and RLOs ensured the project responded to actual needs and was tailored to the local context and was key to the early success of this project. As pro bono culture in Thailand is still emerging, a ‘Clearinghouse Fund’ was created for local pro bono lawyers to tap into to cover some of the costs associated with taking on legal cases. This has allowed the project to mostly engage local lawyers, who were interested in being involved but would otherwise struggle to pay out of pocket expenses.
Many legal needs that refugees have are related to areas of Thai law, such as employment, guardianship, accidents, documentation. By focusing on Thai law and connecting legal assistance NGOs with lawyers who have necessary expertise, the project has added value to the work of NGOs, many of whom have in-house lawyers who are experts on international refugee law but often are not familiar and/or trained on Thai law.
In only its first year of implementation, the project is already showing encouraging outcomes and local NGOs and lawyers involved in the project want to continue it and to expand it to include other local actors, such as local law schools and law students. The local context in Thailand is also favorable to such an expansion as there is a growing need for more lawyers to support refugees in the long term. To this end, local actors, PILnet and Pledge partners believe this project can play a significant role in providing free legal assistance to refugees and in training more lawyers to provide legal assistance, which will benefit many more refugees in the years to come.
Learn more about PILnet’s work with those who have been forcibly displaced.