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18 October 20223 minute read

Legal Helpdesk for Asylum Seekers wins the PILnet Local Impact award

Global law firm DLA Piper has been presented with the Local Impact Award at the 2022 PILnet awards alongside its project partners the Brussels Bar Association, Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, and Freshfields and Fragomen.

The award was given to the group for a helpdesk project that supports asylum seekers who are denied access to reception conditions in Belgium.

PILnet’s Local Impact Award specifically recognises the best, most innovative pro bono legal project with an impact felt at the local or national level. The award ceremony took place on 18 October 2022 in Dublin. Through the awards, PILnet also seeks to encourage the development of long-lasting and substantial networks through which the legal community can better serve the public interest and advance social change.

Launched in April 2022 in response to the ongoing reception crisis in Belgium, the Legal Helpdesk recruited 200 volunteer lawyers and law students to provide support to asylum seekers in need of shelter and medical assistance in Belgium.

Led by Freshfields and DLA Piper, 33 law firms are participating in this project providing legal information, preparing applications for legal aid and following-up on national proceedings to get access to shelter. Each day the helpdesk assists around 100 single men from Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, many of whom are living on the streets of Brussels having been denied access to or awaiting a place in a reception centre.

Lawyers at the Helpdesk file individual court cases against the state to ensure that asylum seekers are provided with appropriate accommodation, food and medical care. As a result of the Helpdesk 3,600 positive decisions have been issued by the labour court since April 2022. These decisions urged the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers to take the necessary measures to ensure appropriate reception conditions and social assistance. Freshfields and DLA are also running working groups to file complaints, for particularly vulnerable people, before the European Commission for non-compliance with EU law and rule 39 requests before the European Court of Human Rights

Commenting on the award win, Emmanuel Plasschaert, President of the Brussels Bar said: “The Legal helpdesk is an unprecedented example of the dedication and responsiveness of the legal community in Brussels. More than 220 lawyers and 33 firms, from a diverse mix of practices and backgrounds, offered their assistance. The 3600+ judgments they obtained are a testimony to the concrete impact of our work.”

Margaux Bia, Lead Lawyer for Pro Bono Europe at DLA Piper added: “This award puts a spotlight on the ongoing human rights crisis in Belgium where asylum seekers including minors, pregnant women and people in need of medical care live in the streets without assistance. The award celebrates the legal professionals and students from all backgrounds who come together every day to help asylum seekers access legal aid and acceptable reception conditions. This recognition encourages us to continue our tireless efforts to solve this crisis and advocate for the respect of human rights in Belgium.”

Watch a video on the Legal Helpdesk here.