UOW initiated family unification project to support Illawarra's refugees

PROJECT LEADER: University of Wollongong's Legal Intersection Research Centre director Professor Nan Seuffert is hoping the SURF project will support refugees.

PROJECT LEADER: University of Wollongong's Legal Intersection Research Centre director Professor Nan Seuffert is hoping the SURF project will support refugees.

University of Wollongong law students are leading community efforts to support Illawarra refugees and their families.

They will support refugees through a family unification project which Illawarra Multicultural Services (IMS) CEO Raquel Aldunate says is pivotal to the successful settlement of community members from refugee backgrounds.

Supporting the Unification of Refugee Families (SURF) is a collaborative project between UOW’s Legal Intersection Research Centre (LIRC), Wollongong City Council and IMS.

The project launched on May 12 has also had valubale contributions from Legal Aid, Illawarra Legal Services and the Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families (SCARF).

LIRC director Professor Nan Seuffert said the SURF pilot research project will link UOW law student volunteers with IMS, providing local refugees with clerical assistance for family reunification applications and citizenship applications.

This will support the work of Ann Woods, Wollongong’s only registered migration lawyer who does pro bono work with clients from refugee backgrounds.

‘’I’m thrilled that this project, initiated by the LIRC, has had such an enthusiastic response from the Wollongong City Council, the IMS, SCARF and others,’’ Prof Seuffert said.

UOW Law lecturer Dr Niamh Kinchin added 20 student volunteers assist refugee families onsite at IMS. Each student will be assigned a family and will commit to spending one evening a week providing clerical assistance with the completion of forms for family reunification and citizenship.

‘’It’s a fantastic opportunity for our students to make a difference to the community and gain valuable skills and experience in the meantime,’’ Dr Kinchin said.

IMS CEO Raquel Aldunate said it was good to be part of a project that actively demonstrates IMC’s commitment to facilitating access to justice for its clients by supporting them to navigate complex legal processes. 

“Through our work at IMS, we are energised by the courage and resilience of our clients who are starting new lives in Australia,’’she said.

‘’We hope that the SURF project will provide a foundation for future collaboration with immigration specialists to make legal services more accessible for our community members from humanitarian and refugee backgrounds.’’

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery was ‘’greatly encouraged’’ by the many young university law students who have volunteered for the SURF program.

‘’They will give their time to help community members apply for family reunion visas and complete citizenship forms, both vital steps in the settlement journey,’’ he said.

‘’Council recognises that Wollongong’s refugee communities bring skills, talents and strengths to our city.

‘’We have a strong tradition of welcoming refugees into our city and partnering with the University of Wollongong and Illawarra Multicultural Services for the SURF program is our newest contribution to this tradition of welcome.’’