Our focus on refugees

Macfarlanes has a history of supporting refugees. More than that, some of us at Macfarlanes have direct experience of displacement and many more of us have parents or grandparents who were forced to flee their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

This topic is particularly pertinent now as reports suggest that 2020 has seen the highest levels of displacement on record, with an estimated 79m people currently displaced worldwide.

So, in recent months we have been running a programme focused on supporting refugees. We have volunteered for refugee charities, attended talks to educate ourselves on the situation that refugees around the world face and we have been sharing our own family stories of displacement.

Our stories

Within the firm we have been sharing our stories including families escaping Franco’s Spain, surviving the India-Pakistan partition, escaping Cyprus following invasion, and fleeing the civil war in Sri Lanka. Each story has taught us so much – about history, politics and religion. As Sebastian, our senior partner, observed “Refugees are not “others”. As our stories show, they are us.”

I often think of my grandparents’ experiences and the way they responded to adversity.
Sebastian Prichard Jones Senior partner

International Women’s Day

In March 2021, to mark International Women’s Day (IWD), we hosted a panel event featuring a number of remarkable female refugees. In line with the IWD theme, they spoke about how they responded to their challenging circumstances and are now forging a new life for themselves. Read their stories.

Holocaust Memorial Day

In January 2021 we marked Holocaust Memorial Day with a seminar hosted by artist and author Edmund de Waal, together with our own Stephen Kon. Edmund is known for large-scale porcelain installations as well as his award-winning book “The Hare with Amber Eyes” in which he recounts how his family lost almost everything in 1938. Although the Nazi’s confiscated his family’s property, a collection of small Japanese carvings, netsuke, were hidden and later recovered, providing a thread from which Edmund could unravel his family history. Stephen’s father was the only member of his family to escape Poland and to survive World War II. He found his way to England in 1942 and Stephen recounted how his life and 40-year career as an EU/competition lawyer have been highly influenced by his father’s refugee experiences.

It is very rarely a choice for someone to flee their home country and it can happen to anyone. As this year has proven, life as we know it has the ability to change practically overnight.
Claire O'Connor Senior team PA, litigation

The Refugee Law Clinic

In 2020 we were a founding partner firm of the pro bono Refugee Law Clinic (RLC), alongside the University of London and Clifford Chance. The RLC provides free legal advice to those seeking to make fresh claims for asylum, an area which has been identified as under serviced in the current legal pro bono landscape.

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My life in the UK depends entirely on a series of crucial choices my parents made in the 1970s.
Sapheen Meran Legal technology and innovation manager

Sponsoring a legal scholar

We are supporting the UN Refugee Agency’s Aiming Higher campaign. Currently, only 3% of refugees have access to higher education and the agency has set a target of 15% of refugees accessing higher education by 2030. We are funding a refugee scholar for the next year, covering all of their tuition and living costs. In 2020 the programme supported 305 legal scholars globally and we’re pleased to be helping to support the next generation of lawyers.

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We have supported the work of Care4Calais for a number of years, including collecting donations from across the firm and visiting Calais to volunteer.

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Imperial War Museum: Forced to Flee

In 2020/2021 we sponsored the Imperial War Museum’s (IWM) Refugees: Forced to Flee exhibition. Specifically, we supported Refugee Nights, a virtual festival created as part of the exhibition. The virtual events explore the stories of the people behind the numbers and challenge the refugee stereotype, with contributions from comedians, actors, artists, journalists, and activists.

Watch episode recordings on the IWM’s YouTube channel