In publica commoda

Assistance navigating the German bureaucratic jungle

What does it mean to be a tolerated refugee? How do I get a work permit? Can I apply for a housing subsidy? For many refugees, the German bureaucracy is often difficult to circumnavigate. At the Refugee Law Clinic, a not-for-profit association founded by Göttingen students, people without a German passport can obtain assistance and support on legal matters.

The association has 82 members, 30 of whom underwent advisor training last semester. They spent one semester – supported by lawyers, judges and research assistants – organising workshops with specialists in the fields of administrative law, asylum law and the law on foreigners; other subjects dealt with conversational skills or traumatic situations. The faculty contributed by providing rooms and legal literature. At the end, they engaged in work shadowing at law firms, Caritas Friedland and at the Göttingen Migration Centre.

Every Wednesday, the Refugee Law Clinic now holds its office hours – free-of-charge and without appointment. "We explain forms or letters, accompany the refugees to authorities, help them contact the social welfare offices and foreigners registration authorities," says Hassan El-Arab of the advisory team. When it comes to interpreting, they work together with the Conquer Babel student initiative.

"Many refugees are afraid to go to a lawyer. We see ourselves as a low-threshold for an initial consultation and coordinate further arrangements as needed," El-Arab explains. His parents fled Lebanon in the 1980s – one reason he can relate to the situation. "That's a big motivation for me to help."

The Refugee Law Clinic was launched successfully in March. "Ten people came to our first office hours," Matthias Jakubowski recalls. "They asked questions about the new asylum laws, about family reunification, about social security benefits or how to establish status." If the questions get too difficult and need further clarification, the association can fall back on an advisory board comprised of lawyers and judges.

One of them is the Göttingen lawyer Silke Schäfer who specialises in asylum law and the law on foreigners. "It's fantastic to see how engaged these young people are," she says. There is no reason for lawyers to see the Refugee Law Clinic as competition. "We mutually enhance each other and refer each other as well," she adds.

Mario Jäger, enrolled in his third semester of law studies, is happy to gain practical experience. "I'm studying law because I want to help people," he explains. "And that is exactly what the Refugee Law Clinic does." Another cycle of adviser training is scheduled to start this semester. On 13 April 2016 interested parties were invited to an info evening.