Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, over 7 million Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian nationals have fled the country, mainly to neighbouring states. In Poland, where the highest number of refugees now reside, this mass displacement has caused an unprecedented need for direct legal assistance. To support Polish lawyers to address this overwhelming influx of legal needs, the legal aid organisation, European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL), launched a new project in Warsaw, the Ukraine Pro Bono Collaborative. Its objective is to provide those fleeing Ukraine with high-quality legal advice on obtaining temporary protection or other legal status, navigating legal procedures, and accessing refugee rights in Poland.

This project is predicated on collaboration between different actors within the legal ecosystem, with the Poland offices of Dentons, Hogan Lovells, Allen & Overy, White & Case, Norton Rose Fulbright and Bird & Bird, all committing to providing pro bono lawyers that are supervised by ELIL staff. ELIL now works with over 20 pro bono lawyers across three locations in Warsaw, including a UNHCR-UNICEF Blue Dot Hub and two reception centers. The pro bono staff also work closely with Polish Bar Associations and local legal aid actors to ensure that specialised or more complex cases can be referred to lawyers with the necessary expertise.

In only three months, the Ukraine Pro Bono Collaborative has provided legal support to over 1,250 people in Warsaw and much of this success can be attributed to the adoption of ELIL’s pre-existing pro bono model. ELIL originally began as an organisation providing free legal aid to refugees arriving in Lesvos, Greece. In 2019, ELIL launched the Greece Pro Bono Collaborative, which involves pro bono lawyers from partner firms providing direct legal assistance in four locations across Greece (Lesvos, Samos, Athens and Thessaloniki). As Philip Worthington, Managing Director of ELIL, recently highlighted at the opening event of European Pro Bono Week, building upon their existing framework in Greece enabled ELIL and the firms to respond rapidly to the legal aid crisis in Poland.

To learn more about this project you can visit ELIL’s webpage on their work in Poland, or contact ELIL’s Managing Director, Philip Worthington ([email protected]) or ELIL’s Legal Coordinator in Poland, Dr Filip Czernicki ([email protected]). You can also read more about the Greece Pro Bono Collaborative in a previous Project Highlight by PILnet (here).

PILnet, after being contacted by UNHCR in the early stages of the invasion of Ukraine with a request for pro bono assistance at its Blue Dots Hubs, supported the initial scoping and development of this project. In line with its role as the coordinator of the Global Refugee Forum Legal Community Pledge, PILnet is committed to supporting and promoting collaborative pro bono projects that maximise the resources and expertise of different actors within the legal ecosystem to increase access to legal assistance for refugees and others forcibly displaced around the world.