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06-Dec-2023 00:10:07
A network of pro-bono lawyers in Poland have been helping newly arrived refugees from Ukraine navigate their rights and access social services. UNHCR

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1. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella, refugee:
“My name is Ella.”
2. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella, refugee:
“When the war began.”
3. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella, refugee:
“Our village became occupied.”
4. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella, refugee:
“We had to leave quickly.”
5. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella, refugee:
“When I arrived in Poland with my two babies.”
6. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella, refugee:
“I was devastated, I was scared.”
7. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella, refugee:
”I didn’t have any help, I didn’t know how I was going to go on, but I knew I was safe.”
8. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella, refugee:
”Lawyers came one day to the organization I work in and said that they will work with us every Monday.”
9. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella, refugee:
“Moreover, they helped me specifically with issues related to my children.”
10. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“The case of Ella is one of the very common case that we have here.”
11. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“When we knew that the war started, we just realized that there is a lot of things that we have to do.”
12. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“We just realized that there is a lot of things that we have to do”
13. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“It is not enough for those people to be sure that they are welcome here, and they can feel secure, they can start studying, they can go to school they should learn a language, and so on and so on.”
14. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“So every time I meet a person I try to listen to this person, I try to do my best to help this person”
15. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“I like working with people and I feel that every time we do something good, it changes the world even a bit.”
16. Med shot, MS Lawyers discuss in office with NATSOT
17. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“This is something that”
18. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
19. “You don’t have to be paid for.”
20. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“You can just do it and you can feel good with yourself.”
21. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“It's something magical in being a lawyer, studying law, interpreting the provisions, and actually also helping people.”
22. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
23. “And this is not only.”
24. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“When the war is in Ukraine, but this is something that can be can be…”
25. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“Can be forever.”
26. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“I hope that they will find peace here in Poland and...”
27. SOUNDBITE (English) Malgorzata, lawyer:
“…and that they can simply feel secure here.”
28. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella:
“Because she was there for me all this time I felt safe, as if there was a strong presence behind me.”
29. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella:
“She was very cool, very kind.”
30. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella:
“My children are very loved and get help from everyone here”
31. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella:
32. “I would say many thanks to her.”
33. SOUNDBITE (Ukrainian) Ella:
“Because in general, the support of the whole world is very important, very important.”
34. Wide shot, timelapse landmark building Warsaw
35. Wide shot, timelapse road Warsaw
36. Pan right, skyscrapers Warsaw
37. Med shot, office workers city backdrop
38. Med shot, Malgorzata walks to car on phone
39. Med shot, Malgorzata drives car
40. Close up, Malgorzata drives car
41. Traveling shot, Dash cam car on bridge
42. Close up, Malgorzata in car mirror
43. Wide shot, Malgorzata on pavement
44. Med shot, lawyers with client
45. Med shot, smiling client
46. Close up, hands on lap
47. Wide shot, various client walks in rain
48. Med shot, various client walks in rain
49. Various client walks in rain
50. Med shot, Malgorzata and other in her office
51. Med shot, Malgorzata in office
52. Close up, hands on lap
53. Med shot, Malgorzata and other in her office
54. Close up, Malgorzata and other in her office
55. Med shot, various lawyers in room with client and laptops
56. Med shot, Malgorzata smiling.
57. Close up, typing on laptop
58. Close up, typing on laptop
59. Close up, lawyer face
60. Wide shot, lawyer working at desk
61. Close up, slomo hands with business card
62. Med shot, handing business card to refugee
63. Med shot, various lawyer with elderly couple
64. Various shots client walking through
65. Various shots, Malgorzata leaning and smiling Ukraine flags
66. Close up, slomo Ella with her two children
67. Wide shot, Ella and her children play in park
68. Med shot, Ella and her children play in park
69. Med shot, Ella pushes child on swing
70. Med shot, child in park
71. Med shot, Ella in park
72. Med shot, child plays in park
73. Close up, Ella holds hand with child
74. Various shots, Ella playing and hugging children
75. Various shots, children play in park
76. Med shot, Malgorzata walks into car
77. Med shot, Malgorzata walks on pavement
78. Med shot, Malgorzata enters office
79. Close up, Malgorzata office sign
80. Med shot, Malgorzata speaking
81. Various shots, MS Malgorzata sat at office


A network of pro-bono lawyers in Poland have been helping newly arrived refugees from Ukraine navigate their rights and access social services.

As Ella stood on the streets of Warsaw, Poland – a six-month old baby in her arms and a two-year-old toddler by her side – she was relieved to be far from the war in Ukraine, but deeply shaken and uncertain about what the future held for her young family.

A primary school teacher by profession, Ella and her children – Zlata and Matvii – are from the village of Katyuzhanka, 60 kilometres north of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. Katyuzhanka was one of the first places to be occupied during the full-scale invasion.

“We saw all of these planes, tanks and when our village became occupied, we immediately went to the west of Ukraine,” she said. “I was nervous and [the children] could feel it. I needed to take them to a safe place for […] their mental health.”

When missile attacks eventually spread to the area where they were staying, Ella made the difficult decision to leave her country. Since February 2022, more than 6 million refugees have fled ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Most of them have come through Poland, and close to one million refugees are currently registered for temporary protection in the country.

Amidst the trauma of losing homes and leaving loved ones behind, refugees often face struggles in finding legal aid and understanding their rights and what assistance they are entitled to in a new country: everything from housing and work opportunities requirements to childcare services and other social benefits. That’s where PILnet – a global network of legal professionals and civil society organizations – has made a huge difference in Poland and other countries around the world.

PILnet coordinated an ambitious pledge at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum (GRF): mobilizing the global legal community to protect and find solutions for refugees and other forcibly displaced people. Initially, a PILnet-led group of 80 law firms, bar associations, legal aid NGOs, and other organizations pledged a generous 127,000 pro bono hours per year.

Over the last four years – as crises multiplied around the world and the number of forcibly displaced people reached historic highs – the global legal community has expanded its efforts. Lawyers in Poland mobilized as soon as refugees from Ukraine – like Ella and her children – began crossing the border.

he results are inspiring. As of September 2023, lawyers have offered 585,858 pro bono hours, exceeding the original pledge. Furthermore, the network has grown to a total of 110 partner firms, associations and organizations.

Collaboration between the private sector, organizations, governments and refugees themselves is a focus of the second GRF in Geneva, Switzerland from 13-15 December. It will convene leaders from around the world to reflect on challenges, explore opportunities and pledge actions to help those forced to flee their homes, as well as the countries that host them.

Building on the achievements of the 2019 Pledge, PILnet is coordinating the 2023 GRF Legal Community Pledge, which is now open for signatureLink is external.

That spirit of generosity and kindness is exemplified by Malgorzata, the Warsaw-based lawyer who has been helping Ella and her children. “I think that it's something magical in being a lawyer, interpreting the provisions and actually helping people,” she said. “Just like all my life, I work in the sector where I'm helping people who have no money, no knowledge of how to get support.”

In addition to her work as a lawyer, Malgorzata is an assistant professor at the University of Warsaw and helps run a legal support project for youth at risk of homelessness. She is a mentor to young lawyers in Poland and helps connect them to opportunities for pro bono work. All of this made her the ideal advocate to help Ella and her two children.

“The case of Ella is one of the very common cases that we have here. It's pretty complicated, especially if you don't speak Polish,” Malgorzata explained. “The law is changing constantly and it’s not giving people long-term provisions on which they can base their future.”

Ella first encountered Malgorzata through a local organization that helps Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw. From that moment, they met regularly.
“[Malgorzata] helped me a lot with questions about the things I have a right to and what I’m entitled to. She helped me specifically with issues related to my children,” she said.

“I visited her every Monday, and she was always there for me. I felt safe, as if there was a strength behind me who will advise, who will help and even if there are difficult legal issues, will direct [me] where necessary.”

“It's not only just codes and paragraphs and contracts, but the most important thing is the relationship that we are having with our clients,” Malgorzata added. “Every time I meet a person, I try to listen to this person. I try to do my best to help this person. If they are coming back, we know that we are doing something good for them. They trust us.”
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