A win for tireless refugee advocate

A win for tireless refugee advocate

image of Sarah Fisher
Sarah Fisher, Senior Migration Lawyer

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) Senior Migration Lawyer Sarah Fisher has been recognised as a leader in her field with the Law Council of Australia’s 2018 Outstanding Contribution to Immigration Law award.

The award recognises nominees who have made an exceptional contribution to the field of migration law in Australia and who display outstanding leadership, professionalism and human qualities.

VLA’s Migration Program Manager Joel Townsend said he was delighted but unsurprised by Sarah’s award. ‘This prestigious award is recognition of the respect in which Sarah is held, as a professional and as a person of compassion.’

'Sarah is a model for any public interest lawyer: she has unhurried common-sense and clarity of mind, allied with a passion for justice for the hard done by,’ said Joel.

Sarah Fisher was overseas when she received the award but said the nomination and win was ‘overwhelming’.

‘There are very few bright moments working in this area, particularly in the current political climate and this is indeed a bright moment for me personally and professionally,’ she said.

In recent years, Sarah has worked primarily on judicial review proceedings and has represented some of the most profoundly disadvantaged people affected by Australia’s migration system.

In particular, Sarah’s work in the long-running case of a Rohingya man has been recognised.

‘One of Sarah's clients was found to be a refugee, but spent several years in immigration detention as the Department dealt with his case. After four trips to the AAT, four to the Federal Circuit Court, and one to the Federal Court, Sarah secured his release from detention, and he is waiting in the community for a decision on his protection visa application,' said Joel.

She is an Accredited Specialist in Immigration Law, and for a decade was a member of the Advisory Committee for Accredited Specialisation in Immigration Law. From 2002 to 2005 she was Chair of the Committee. She is also co-author of the Lawyers Practice Manual chapter ‘Applications for Refugee Status.'

In addition to working for disadvantaged people in the migration system while at VLA, Sarah has contributed to refugee law in Victoria as a volunteer and formerly as a member of the Board of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre. She was on the Centre’s Management Committee from 1998 to 2012, including a stint as its President. Former mentees, colleagues and associates wrote letters in support of Sarah’s nomination. A case worker from an asylum seeker assistance organisation wrote about Sarah’s determined approach to a client who was due to be deported back to Afghanistan.

‘It was only Sarah's rapid and expert intervention that stopped Ali* being sent back to what he believed was his own certain death … On re-examination, his claims for protection as a refugee in Australia were found to be legitimate and he was able to return to living in the community and working to support himself.

It is my belief that this would not have been the case without Sarah's tireless and extremely professional approach to Ali's case. Sarah could have given up on Ali's case when all seemed to be lost and his deportation was all but guaranteed. But she did not. She went well above and beyond to do everything in her power to intervene in a situation she saw as unjust and where she saw merit in the client's case. In this way, I believe that she embodied and upheld the principles that VLA stands for in championing human rights in Australia.’

Sarah said she would continue to work for disadvantaged people in the migration system. ‘I am very fortunate to be part of a terrific group of lawyers, all of whom shine brightly in the migration litigation sphere and I think the award is a reflection of the skill and commitment which they all bring to this work. I’m proud to be part of a team which helps ensure the rule of law in refugee matters is not forgotten. To borrow from Minister Dutton’s recent comments, I can now proudly wear the ‘Un-Australian’ badge.'

More information

Read more about Law Council of Australia's awards

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