FRIDA – Independent, Free and Open Legal Help for Asylum Seekers
After working with refugees and asylum seekers for years, Ariane Olschak, Farah Saad, Marianna Mkrtchian und Philipp Schmidtmayr knew what was needed in the community: expertise in the field of asylum and alien law combined. About a year ago the law students and graduates founded „Frida“. They wanted to fill the gap that had already started to exist as the Austrian government is expected to terminate its’ contracts with Diakonie and Verein Menschenrechte by the end of the year 2020.
Independent, free and open legal help
Frida offers free and open legal consultation every two weeks with as little bureaucracy as possible. People can just show up at the consultation without an appointment or call beforehand. Some need general information about their rights, others face specific problems and become regular clients. It is of course guaranteed that each time there are enough translators and experts present that are well versed in alien and/or asylum law.
Besides personal counselling, the organisation offers to write statements and appeals in asylum and alien law procedures, prepares briefs, helps filling out application forms and accompanies their clients to court hearings. The goal is to assist them in all legal matters related to migration or asylum in Austria.
Within only one year Frida managed to help around 300 people with a continuously growing team of about 20 people, if you count all advisors, translators, and affiliates. Since the beginning, Frida has been positively recognized as a new player and welcomed nicely by the network, especially due to high demand and combination of asylum and alien law within the same organisation. Up to now the legal advice for refugees and asylum seekers has been largely provided by private aid organisations and NGOs. From next year on these services are to be provided by a new institution called “BBU” and thus nationalised. The situation seems dire because this means the end of funding for independent consultation of asylum seekers.
“By cutting the funding for “ARGE Rechtsberatung”, organisations that are independently representing asylum seekers before the courts, the Austrian government is narrowing down on the fundamental rights of people who have fled to Austria looking for protection.” – explains one of the founders of Frida, Philipp Schmidtmayr.
Challenges and future
As a new organisation, they must even more so make sure that their consultation is accurate and reliable, as trust needs to be built up in the beginning. Therefore, the qualified team consists of translators, experienced people who worked in asylum and or alien law, advisors who worked in the community and law students or graduates.
For the future there are many plans: offering courses, representing their clients in court hearings, hiring someone for administration, finding a location that better suits their needs. For now sustainability and funding are big topics. Frida receives donations, but currently everybody is working pro bono.
Tips for new entrepreneurs
Frida-team recommends looking for people who you are willing to spend a lot of time with and with whom conflict can be solved easily and quickly. Not getting discouraged is also an important message. Along the way, the team faced many hiccups and problems that they did not think of before, but that could be overcome. Last, but not least:
“You need a good reason, a message that you can communicate. With this, you can overcome quite a lot.”- concludes Marianna Mkrtchian, one of the founders of Frida.