The state’s longest-running refugee community legal centre has been thrown a lifeline, thanks to UNSW.
Since it began 28 years ago, the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), has forged a strong reputation as the leading provider of free expert legal services for those seeking asylum – but it has been battling for survival following the federal government’s funding cuts in April last year.
"This support from UNSW has come at a critical time. We had to leave our previous premises and 85% of our funding was cut, forcing us to rely more heavily on donations and grants to continue what we believe is invaluable work.”
UNSW has stepped in to assist, providing rent-free premises for five years on the corner of High Street and Eurimbla Avenue, Randwick.
“This support from UNSW has come at a critical time,” says RACS Executive Director, Tanya Jackson-Vaughan. “We had to leave our previous premises and around the same time, 85% of our funding was cut, forcing us to rely more heavily on donations, grants and support like this to continue what we believe is invaluable work.”
In 2014/15 alone, RACS assisted over 2,827 clients from more than 90 countries, through a range of services including full-time casework, telephone advice, a face-to-face clinic and outreach services in Auburn and Parramatta.
The service found its new home through the tireless commitment of the Chair of RACS, Arthur Glass, who is also a Senior Visiting Fellow at UNSW Law.
Dean of Law Professor David Dixon says the initiative is a great credit to the University, demonstrating its commitment to social justice and community engagement.
“Our students will also benefit from having another community legal centre close by in which they can volunteer, intern and take clinics,” says Professor Dixon. “RACS is a great partner to the Kingsford Legal Centre, the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law and others at UNSW who are working with refugees.”
“RACS and the Kaldor Centre often work closely on submissions to government,” says Ms Jackson-Vaughan. “Being based at UNSW allows us to collaborate more effectively and hopefully have positive outcomes for refugees.”
Currently, 29 staff and 15 student volunteers are the backbone of the service, including Erasmus Lovell-Jones, a UNSW alumnus, who is currently volunteering four days a week and plans to start a PhD in the area of unaccompanied children seeking asylum.
“You get a unique perspective working with RACS,” says Erasmus. “It would be rare to get direct client contact elsewhere, but at RACS I’ve had the opportunity to meet with boys in western Sydney and Newcastle and their stories have really resonated with me.”