Pioneering project reunites refugees with families

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A pioneering project by the University of Bedfordshire that helps reunite refugees with their families has been shortlisted for a national award.

The Refugee Legal Aid Project (RLAP) has been nominated in this year’s Times Higher Education Awards for the ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community’ award

RLAP was launched in 2013 in response to the cuts to legal aid that excluded family reunion cases, making it extremely hard for refugees to be reunited with their families.

One refugee said: “The project helped me to be reunited with my family again. I was feeling so lonely without my family – I was crying every day.

“But now I can laugh, there are no tears on my face and I have found happiness again.”

The student and graduate volunteers involved in RLAP help to support refugees with their applications to UK Visas & Immigration that allow close family members to leave war-torn countries and join their loved ones in the UK.

Project leader Dr Silvia Borelli added: “All of us in the RLAP team are delighted that the project has been shortlisted for this prestigious award. This is yet further recognition of the commitment of our student volunteers, and the vital importance of their work in assisting refugees to be reunited with their loved ones.

“Given the unavailability of legal aid for family reunion applications, and the pressure that the current situation is placing on charities all over the country, there is an ever increasing need for volunteer pro bono projects of this type. We hope that RLAP can serve as the model for the successful establishment of similar projects at other institutions.”

So far, nearly 100 individuals, many of them young children, have received clearance to come to the UK and have been reunited with refugees assisted by the project.

The work of the RLAP was also recognised in 2015 when it was awarded the Lord-Lieutenant’s Community Engagement Award.