Lawyers and former refugees Danijel Malbasa and Malek Kazimi discussed how the legal profession can better support refugees, during a panel discussion at DLA Piper in Melbourne.
Australian lawyers Danijel Malbasa and Malek Kazimi both fled war as children.
Danijel was born in Croatia and was uprooted by the Yugoslav Wars. After the death of his father, Danijel, his mother and siblings spent six years in camps for displaced people before moving to Adelaide in 1999. Danijel arrived in Australia as a traumatised and malnourished 12-year-old.
“Refugee children really do grow up very quickly because you have to, you have to really help your family in flight,” Danijel said.
Malek was 10 when he fled Afghanistan with his uncle’s family in 2004 because of war. They lived in neighbouring Pakistan for 18 months before moving to Australia on a humanitarian visa.
"When I came to Australia, I didn't know how to speak English. I was familiar with the alphabet, but that was the limit of my English,” he said.
“Everything was different here including people and how things were done, especially in school. I guess those were some of the main challenges for me as a young boy at that age.”
For both Malek and Danijel, their experience of being displaced from their homes has today made them powerful advocates for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.
Malek is a lawyer with DLA Piper, leading the firm’s pro bono support of forcibly displaced people in Australia, which involves providing representation for refugees and asylum seekers; and legal assistance to NGOs working with them. DLA Piper also educates refugees about their legal rights.
“Having that lived experience of being a refugee really helps me in delivering holistic support to refugees and asylum seekers and building relationships and trust," Malek said.
Danijel is an industrial relations lawyer, writer and advocate. He also volunteers as a migration agent with Refugee Legal, where he helps asylum seekers apply for Temporary Protection Visas. In 2022, Danijel was awarded the inaugural Australia for UNHCR-SBS Les Murray Award for Refugee Recognition.
"I really wanted to humanise the plight of refugees because a lot of people don't actually get to meet a refugee,” Danijel said. “That was really what motivated me to [be a lawyer], to put a human face to the issue.”
Danijel and Malek were part of a recent panel discussion at DLA Piper’s office in Melbourne, to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis.
DLA Piper has a long-standing relationship with the UN Refugee Agency and is currently providing pro bono support and financial contributions to the agency's global programs.
During the event, Malek and Danijel discussed some of the main challenges refugees and asylum seekers face when they first come to Australia, including applying for Protection Visas without speaking English or knowing the legal processes.
They also spoke about how those in the legal profession can better support asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, by explaining processes in simple terms, being sensitive to the trauma they have experienced, and understanding the different backgrounds they come from.
“I think people in the legal profession, refugees, and non-refugees all have a really important role in pushing towards a better future for refugees,” Malek said. “I hope for a more compassionate world where refugees are seen by all as contributing to society: economically, socially and culturally."
Danijel said the narrative around refugees in Australia is beginning to shift.
“There is a change in the air when we talk about refugees,” he said. “And it is all because of people like us. People with lived experience brave enough to talk about their trauma. We have been doing that for so long that we have etched our way towards change.”
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