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A look at the Halifax Refugee Clinic

Founded in 2000, the Halifax Refugee Clinic is a grassroots, not-for-profit charity that seeks to provide refugees with the support and free legal representation that they need.

“Refugees are some of the most marginalized people in our communities,” says settlement coordinator Gillian Zubizarreta.

This is due to the conditional status that makes them ineligible for provincial health coverage. This status also means that refugees must wait months for work and study authorization, and are not eligible for immigration funded settlement services such as free English language training.

The clinic, located on Macara Street, offers settlement services for refugee claimants, refugees and people in need of protection. They are the only option for refugees in Nova Scotia who cannot afford a lawyer.

“Many claimants are able to financially support themselves, but are forced into provincial income assistance. They are forced to put their lives on hold and assume the stereotypical refugee identity of dependence and need,” says Zubizarreta.

The clinic offers a wide array of services, from helping clients access health care, to finding housing, employment counseling, mental health services and English language services.

The clinic takes on approximately 40 new clients every year, but many clients continue to access the services for years after they first apply. This is due to a number of reasons, such as the lengthy permanent residence processing time. Each year, the Halifax Refugee Clinic serves about 100 refugees each year.

The clinic has been extremely successful this year with a 100 per cent success rate with refugee claims. This rate fluctuates every year – last year it was 65 per cent, with some of the people given who were negative decisions later being granted the right to remain in Canada through other applications, such as humanitarian and compassionate applications.

However, the clinic’s services do not stop if an applicant doesn’t have a positive first decision. Their services include appeal, applications to the federal court, or seeking the right to remain in Canada through other applications.

The clinic recently held an Open House due to an increase of public interest in their work. It is their hope that this translates into better awareness along with a desire to actively participate in helping to make positive changes for refugee claimants, and all refugees, in our communities.

“People need to know the facts and how many absurdly unnecessary bureaucratic barriers refugee claimants face when trying to simply work, study, and live day to day. It is hypocritical that the government processes that are in place serve to erode the dignity and self-sufficiency of refugee claimants, the very people accused of not contributing to Canada,” says Zubizarreta.

The Clinic is funded in part by the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia, but a large portion of their budget comes from private donations and fundraising efforts.

There are numerous ways for the community to get involved and help the Halifax Refugee Clinic – volunteering to teach English, volunteering with the HRC Bike Program, or donating to their second-hand pop-up shop, Section 96.

Tickets are also holding their annual Auction for Asylum at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which will be held on Nov. 27.

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