The Halifax Refugee Clinic officially commenced operations on June 1, 2000. The Clinic is a not-for-profit, non-governmental, community based organization that provides no-cost legal and settlement services to refugee claimants in Nova Scotia who are unable to afford the services of private legal counsel. This includes most people in Nova Scotia who have made claims for refugee protection. The Clinic was born out of the failure of both the federal and provincial governments to maintain funding to Nova Scotia Legal Aid to provide legal services to refugee claimants. Legal Aid service was discontinued a number of years ago and, in the interim years, many people appeared before the Immigration and Refugee Board without counsel, unable to understand the forms in English/French and not to mention the complex legal proceedings.
Their applications and supportive material were generally insufficient, improperly prepared, and much of the hearing time was wasted sorting out poorly prepared paperwork instead of addressing the substantive issues related to the claimants’ personal and political histories. Cases were lost and lives endangered solely because refugee claimants did not have an experienced representative to assist with their claim for political asylum.
The Halifax Refugee Clinic was created to ensure that some of the world’s most vulnerable and persecuted people receive support and representation while they seek a safe haven in Nova Scotia. Many of our clients have survived torture, physical violence, sexual abuse, discrimination and marginalization and are thus in need of comprehensive and caring services as they settle in our communities.
The Clinic relies on volunteers from the legal community to represent refugee claimants before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. The Executive Director, in- house office staff, and legal volunteers and interns conduct client and file preparation addressing the myriad of issues that must be examined and prepared in advance of conducting a refugee hearing.
Volunteer lawyers, practicing and retired, from around the Province assume responsibility to represent Clinic clients before the Immigration and Refugee Board and where required, the Federal Court of Canada. The expertise and dedication of our volunteer counsel, along with our intensive in-house hearing preparation programme, has paid dividends and we are happy to report a success rate for 2011-2012 of 63%, well above the national average.
Complimentary to the legal services, the Clinic provides in-house settlement services and acts as a liaison between the claimant and access to other services available in the Province. Our settlement team, led by the Settlement Coordinator and aided by our dedicated volunteers and placement students, helps clients to access and secure basic needs such as shelter, food, and health care while assessing other settlement and integration needs. Settlement services are tailored to needs and include services such as employment counselling, English language learning support, mental health counselling, assistance applying for work/study permits, help accessing income assistance, and long-term housing support. In carrying out such services we act as advocates, brokers, mediators, and facilitators in various capacities.
Our English language learning services, along with our workshop/presentations on many different topics from tenant rights and responsibilities to stress management, are offered by volunteers and community partners. Welcoming community members into the Clinic serves the double purpose of ensuring that our clients get a full range of services and support and helps to make the community at large aware of the realities of refugee claimants, realities which are all too often misunderstood and distorted in the media.
Prior to the establishment of The Halifax Refugee Clinic there was simply no other place in the Province where refugee claimants could turn to access comprehensive legal and settlement services. The Halifax Refugee Clinic was determined to change that. Initially, we operated much less formally out of homes, coffee shops, and on the street. In January 2001, the Clinic opened a formal, albeit modest, office on Barrington Street in Halifax, then moved to Argyle St., and in 2008 moved to a larger storefront location at 1581 Grafton St.—still remaining in downtown Halifax. On July 1st, 2012, the Clinic moved to its present location at 5538 Macara St., in a quiet residential area in the North End of Halifax. In July 2012, the previous office space at Grafton Street was transformed into the Clinic’s first social enterprise—a second hand clothing boutique called Section 96!
Presently, the Halifax Refugee Clinic is a registered non-profit association listed with the Nova Scotia Joint Stock Companies as a Society, and with the Federal Government of Canada as a registered charity. The existence and growth of a clinic of this nature speaks directly to the level of civility and compassion in our community. We are doing our absolute best to continually provide that compassion and service.