Sarah Dale, Refugee Lawyer, Adviser on My New Book ‘Detention’

I had many advisers in the writing of my new book, Detention (out 2 July, for ages 10+), about a girl who escapes from an immigration detention centre and is on the run. One of those advisers was Sarah Dale, a lawyer at the Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS). Many of us wonder what we could possibly do to help refugees who come from very difficult backgrounds, are forced to leave their homes and, when they arrive in Australia, often spend time in detention centres. And, even when released from a detention centre, life can be really hard starting over in a new country where the language and customs are foreign and where you don’t have friends or extended family to support you.

Here, on the eve of Refugee Week, Sarah gives us insight into her working week and an idea of some of the challenges faced by people trying to settle in Australia who are often fleeing war or torture in their homelands.

I spend the morning giving legal advice to people in detention via telephone. My first caller has no idea what is happening with his case, and is unsure whether he has made an application for protection, or whether he will be deported. I can’t give him the answers he needs, so I help him file a Freedom of Information request and make contact with his Case Manager, to find out more.

My second caller is distressed. His claim for protection has been rejected. I calm him down and help him apply to appeal the decision at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

I join a teleconference to help with urgent Medevac transfers from offshore detention. There are hundreds of people seeking medical assistance. The situation for these people is tragic and desperate.

“The people I am seeing are feeling broken by the system.” I listen as a colleague shares her concerns at our quarterly de-brief. I offer advice and support. In our line of work it’s important that we take time to process the trauma we hear together.

Another colleague shares a story of success – a Rohingya man has been granted a protection visa and shed tears of happiness when he heard the news. It’s important that we also celebrate the stories that end in safety and freedom.

I finish the day helping a young man prepare for his interview at the Department. This stage is one of the most crucial for people seeking protection. It means the difference between staying here in safety or being sent back to danger. It is vital he receives legal advice.

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I am at RACS Outreach service in Auburn and my first appointment is with a young mother and her small baby. She made an application for protection before her baby was born, so I help her to update it. If she doesn’t, there could be huge complications.

Next, I hear stories from three separate people who have been refused protection again and again by the Department. I can see the stress and concern in their faces. I refer them to one of my legal colleagues at RACS who will help them make one last appeal.

The appointments continue – three families who recently fled danger need to apply for protection, two people need to apply for work rights.

By the end of the day I realise I have given advice to 29 people. But it’s never enough.
There are not enough hours in the day and the need is huge.

I start the day with no scheduled appointments. As I reach the office I hear a colleague urgently needs my help to prevent the deportation of his client. I send a number of urgent emails and support where I can.

Next, I get in touch with the Department Of Home Affairs. A client of mine has a sick mother. He wants to visit her. The Department have refused his request for travel.

The day ends with a 900+ page medical record review for a person in offshore detention. The review will determine whether he is eligible for a medical transfer to Australia.

I attend an interview at the Department with a young Iranian man I have been supporting. He is nervous. I let him know that he is not alone and I will be there to support him whilst he tells his story. I am hopeful. He has a strong case.

I hope that one day in the near future I can give him the good news that he has been granted a visa and that he is safe.

I head home and reflect on my week. So many stories, so many lives, so many people anxiously searching for a safe life. Every one of them motivates me and my team to keep going. We will continue to defend the human rights of people seeking protection. But we can’t do it alone.

If you haven’t donated to the RACS June appeal, please consider giving. If you have already donated, thank you.



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