OVER 600 people took part in a demonstration outside the Ministry of Justice last Friday afternoon over the government’s refusal to provide a relatively small amount of money to bail out Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) which has gone into administration resulting from the failings in the Legal Services Commission’s funding regime.
The Unite trade union, which led the protest and represents the RMJ’s 340 staff says the government could choose to save it.
RMJ – the largest provider of specialist legal advice for asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants in England and Wales – went into administration last Wednesday, June 16, 2010 and will be closing its doors for the last time this Wednesday.
Ahead of the budget, Unite believes that George Osborne could have revealed what was meant by ‘compassionate Conservatism’ by saving RMJ.
The jobs of over 300 solicitors, legal advisers and staff, and the plight of up to 10,000 vulnerable adults, including 900 children will be affected by the government’s decision. Many of RMJ’s clients will face being returned to countries where they face persecution and where their lives will be put in danger.
News Line spoke to some of the demonstrators.
Rose Kinyanjoi was present with her daughter and granddaughters.
Originally from Kenya, she is now a British citizen, a student nurse and social worker.
Rose told News Line: ‘If it were not for for Refugee Migrant Justice, who handled my daughter and my grandchildren’s case, we would not be here today.
‘They have been detained several times and I didn’t have money to pursue their case.
‘I was introduced to Refugee Migrant Justice by the Children’s Society and through them I got people to listen to my children’s case for the first time since 2006.
‘If Refugee Migrant Justice is closed, people without money and in need will never get justice.
‘Refugees come here looking for safety. The country should listen to them and give them justice.’
Richard Carter said: ‘I think refugees and asylum seekers are already treated atrociously by this country.
‘This used to be a place where people could come for justice.
‘The closing of the Refugee Justice would cause untold suffering for asylum seekers and leave no-one to represent them.
‘It’s a tragedy and indictment of this new government.’
Mukhlesur Chowdhury added: ‘I was a client of RMJ. The way they do their work professionally is very good.
‘If they are closed there will be a mess. People won’t get justice.
‘The government says it is committed to serve the people in a better way and what they are doing in closing RMJ is the opposite.
‘People will be forced to pay a lot of money to solicitors.
‘If they can’t afford to, they won’t get help.’
Sandie Kudhall from Asylum Aid told News Line: ‘It’s disgusting that vulnerable people will not be able to find as good a representative as RMJ.
‘They are a quality provider. Their closure would mean a massive loss to our sector.
‘We want RMJ saved. I want Kenneth Clarke to admit he is misinformed and back track on his decision.
‘It’s a very mean decision.’
Efren Danig from Eritrea told News Line: ‘I’m an interpreter for RMJ.
‘What’s happening is really bad, especially for our clients.
‘I’ve been working for RMJ for the last eight years, now.
‘I’ve worked for many law firms and I found RMJ to be the best.
‘They are very professional and they are compasssionate towards asylum seekers.
‘If they were closed, it will be very bad for asylum seekers.
‘They will be destitute and left without any legal representation.
‘The government’s action is unfair.’
Actress Rebecca Clarke said: ‘My sister works as a lawyer for RMJ.
‘Having heard the work she does and the clients she works for – how vulnerable they are – it’s imperative that these vulnerable people not be left without any support.
‘It’s devastating to know that if RMJ were to close, these people would get lost in the system with no longer having anyone to protect them.’
Addressing the demonstration, Unite national officer Rachael Maskell said: ‘Unite is standing to see justice done.
‘We know there are so many others who provide acts of assistance and advice who are also struggling under the Legal Services Commission failing fees regime which stops organisations being efficient due to the bureaucratic nightmare it imposes on organisations.
‘We know of other advice organisations that are struggling, like CitA will have to make 11 per cent cuts.
‘This government doesn’t care about people if it walks away.
‘There is no compassion in treating the most marginalised people on this planet.
‘You have a choice Ken Clarke – save the RMJ or become secretary of state for injustice.’
Lawyer Raza Husein of Matrix Chambers said: ‘Laws which prohibit the return of individuals to countries where they may suffer in this way seek to address the plight of the dispossessed.
‘But laws are useless if you can’t access them, if you can’t access justice.
‘Asylum seekers know that Refugee Migrant Justice is a superb charity that has been representing individuals seeking protection from return to violation of their fundamental human rights for 18 years.
‘It has done pioneering work for over 110,000 people.
‘Next month it is bringing a test case about removing refugee claimants to Greece where they face destitution and the risk of onward return to harm.
‘In years past, it has won landmark victories for Zimbabwean and Iraqi refugees.
‘Refugee Migrant Justice is the biggest provider of high quality specialist legal advice to claimants seeking refugee status and human rights protection in this country, indeed anywhere in the world.
‘Without it, people will be returned to suffering, people will be tortured, people will be trafficked, people will die.
‘I urge everyone to save this vital charity.’
Former Nigerian refugee, now British citizen, Francis, told the rally: ‘If RMJ is not here, vulnerable persons like myself will suffer.
‘I have been let down by my own system and the UK system as well.’
Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone said: ‘Shamefully, governments for decades have made it more difficult to come to this country.
‘This government doesn’t want refugees to be represented.
‘They want to sent a message to the world – “don’t come here!”’
Livingstone condemned ‘illegal interventions in countries like Iraq’ for producing more refugees.
He pledged: ‘If I were mayor I would help you. Refugees have a right to be in this country.’
RMJ trade union rep Libby Clarke told the rally: ‘We question whether Ken Clarke really understands what faces our clients.
‘Return to war zones and torture is disturbing our clients.
‘As I speak, people are being held to be sent to warehouses in undisclosed locations.
‘David Cameron said big society would not leave weak people behind.
‘RMJ must not close.’