By Caitlin Marshall, 2015 Summer Intern
I am an Australian final year Bachelor of Laws student studying at Charles Darwin University (CDU). This summer I was honoured to be selected to partake in an inaugural collaboration between CDU and the HIRC to experience not only the tenacity and commitment of the team at HIRC but to join them as they assist clients applying for non-refoulement under both the Refugee Convention and the Torture Convention because they have either suffered persecution in the past or have a well-founded fear of persecution in the future on account of their race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group or political opinion should they return back to their home countries. Not only have I had the honour of working with the HIRC legal and academic team but with other dedicated interns.
By day two of my experience I quickly learned that stories of refugee status seekers that have evolved from case law and academic writings in my studies only bears a minimal resemblance to the reality of personally dealing with those who have faced human rights atrocities in their country of origin. My ‘baptism’ into the culture of the HIRC was a sudden immersion into the depths of the clients’ stories and a honed understanding of the importance of the work the HIRC do in providing pro-bono legal assistance to them. My fear of my own inadequacies paled into insignificance when I realised the urgency of the work needed to be done, the time frames in which to do them along with my limited time of 4 weeks with the Clinic. However, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
In my 4 weeks I had a caseload of 5 clients. I was involved in working with 4 female clients who had suffered a range of gender based violence issues and a male client with a particularly complicated range of intertwined nexus issues including religious and political persecution. I quickly dived into country conditions researching, interviewing clients, drafting affidavits, court documentation preparation, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and the art of learning to actively listen with empathy so I could bond with clients in order to gain their trust to draw from the client their story and to translate that into a legal representation of why they cannot be returned to their country of origin.
My greatest practical achievements were to help finalise a country conditions report for a young African woman who was to have her Asylum Office interview the week after I finished my clinical placement and to find a willing and able country conditions expert who would provide a corroborating affidavit for our male African client, something that had previously been very difficult to obtain for this particular client. However, my greatest personal achievements were to rise to the challenges that were given to me and to find the experience so incredibly rewarding, stimulating and thought provoking. I know now that my small contribution has at least helped one person seeking peace and freedom by way of protection from human rights abuses in their countries of origin through the granting of asylum or withholding of removal. It is the latter that is the most invaluable of my experiences.
Debbie, Sabi, Phil, Maggie and Lucy, your academic abilities and highly tuned advocacy skills will always remain an inspiration for me and I will remain eternally grateful in having faith in the partnership between CDU and the HIRC and importantly having faith in me to work so closely with your clients and their cases. Thank you for sharing your expertise, your skills and for including me as a HIRC team member through and through. I also thank my own university, particularly Jeswynn Yogaratnam who had faith in my abilities to put me forward for this incredible and rewarding experience.