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Migrant Rights - how public legal education can help raise awareness.

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Siobhan Cullen, in this blog written for Pro Bono Week 2023 writes about a recent pro bono Street Law project delivered in collaboration with ATU (Atlantic Technological University) aimed at raising awareness of migrant rights with secondary school children.

It is both timely and appropriate to celebrate pro bono week as there is a considerable amount of work being undertaken within the legal profession, law schools and voluntary organisations across a range of areas of law where both legal information and advice are urgently required.

In the current climate, there is a significant emphasis on migrant rights which is essential for many reasons, including unmet legal needs within some migrant communities. Another important aspect of migrant rights is educating we as a community about the law that provides international protection including the role of UNHCR and the rights of asylum seekers. It is important for communities to be aware of international protection laws and the issues arising to foster empathy and understanding as well as encouraging integration.

Street Law is a form of Public Legal Education delivered in schools and other organisations as part of pro bono work which is advantageous to both the recipients and the law students who deliver the programmes, supporting the development of their own skills and experience.

In the summer of 2023 a Street Law project to raise awareness in relation to migrant rights was delivered to 150 secondary school pupils in Ireland by an Open Justice student in collaboration with ATU (Atlantic Technological University).

Open Justice student Amy Klosek delivered these online sessions entitled “Should I stay, or Should I go? which involved using Gary Lineker’s infamous tweet to introduce and debate the Illegal Migration Bill, as it then was in 2022. This led to a student debate and a mock trial which was overseen by members of an intercultural organisation.

The two-hour session, which was delivered to a number of schools over several days, received excellent feedback from the pupils and teachers with expressions such as “understanding”, “empathy” and “interesting” used to describe how the 16-year-old pupils felt about participating in the street law workshop.

The pupils were asked at the outset to note words which came to mind when considering asylum seekers, some of which were negative and demonstrated a lack of understanding of the international protection process. At the end of the session, this was repeated, and the words chosen were more empathetic and included the word “people” in almost half of the responses.

The secondary school teachers’ feedback was that this would be a very beneficial aspect of the curriculum to develop in order to raise awareness, promote good citizenship and support migrant communities, in particular asylum seekers who have recently arrived, including many pupils in the schools.

Street Law, a form of public legal education, is an example of how pro bono clinics and education combine to develop knowledge of law which has numerous benefits. The Open Justice Centre has been involved in numerous Street Law projects with St Giles Trust and other organisations including school across the whole of the UK and regard this as a valuable extra-curricular activity for our law students.

Find out more about this project and our other Street Law activities here.

andrew gilbertSiobhan Cullen

Siobhan joined the Open University in 2022 as a lecturer in the Central Academic Team and is involved in various modules including Family Law, Justice in Action and SQE modules Legal System, Public Law & Criminal Litigation and Property & Private Client Law. Siobhan is involved in the Mediation and Street Law projects for the Open Justice Centre.

Siobhan’s research interests include equality and the role of universities in driving the equality agenda as well as public legal education and the impact of experiential learning on learners.

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