I am writing this with so much gratitude to JCWI. How JCWI helped me by giving a place at their internship programme is the core of this piece. From 2010 to 2018 I lived my life in darkness as an asylum seeker. I am a survivor from an ethnic minority background in Sri Lanka. I came to the UK as a 17-year-old, knowing no one and unable to speak a word of English. I was put up in a cold garage before being forced into homelessness.

I survived through these episodes with help from food banks, friends and asylum seeker support networks. I was given poor advice regarding legal representation and ended up being neglected by various private solicitors. The Home Office did not recognise me as a refugee, and I was detained in 2014 and 2015. Since then, I have turned my pain and suffering into passion and motivation to step up to study law and work for the betterment of other asylum seekers suffering like I have.  

I knew that to fight the system, I needed to understand it. In 2017, I was successful in gaining a scholarship called the Compass Project Fund from Birkbeck to study a Certificate of Higher Education in Legal Methods. Obtaining a distinction in this course helped me progress onwards to an LLB in Law in 2018. Even though I did not formally study English in my home country or the UK, I learned English independently to address my problems.

So, there it is, the beginning of my journey into the legal career. As widely visible, the hierarchy and the language in the legal sector are very scary for any first-year law student. I was not an exception to it, especially as a refugee with a lack of core understanding and the fear of facing an extremely fast-paced environment presented me with a very intimidating scenario. Nevertheless, I was fortunate enough to secure a place at the internship programme at JCWI in July 2019.

As a starting point, it is important to acknowledge my legal role model a very talented solicitor Laura Smith who disentangled me from the horrible immigration system by securing my refugee status. It was not a coincidence to have done the internship where Laura happens to work, but I followed her path. This was the first sparkto my level of confidence.

Furthermore, there is the familiar feeling of getting to know a new place, and feeling your confidence level grow, which I had to content with as I started the internship. I felt very much at ease following the induction by the office manager Tony. There are million amazing things to say but to keep it short, at the end of the internship I felt that I knew inside out of the history of JCWI and especially how to handle machines. Hint: best friend of any legal professional is the photocopier and the scanner.

I could go on writing pages of how good and friendly everyone was. I am very fortunate to say within a week at JCWI, I disbelieved all the hierarchy of system that was put to me prior. I was sitting in the same office space with very outstanding, talented, empathetic and friendly solicitors and at a desk right next to my legal role model. I never expected this, but this was one of the main things that helped me feel I was able to look, ask and learn so much from all of them.

Internships prepare you for your career. Likewise, the time I spent at JCWI helped me get over my misconceptions. I was meaning to write on how much JCWI helped me build my knowledge. As a standard educational practise, no matter how much you learn until you pass the test the credits are not awarded. Likewise, I did not put the things I learned at JCWI to rest but tested it.

As I mentioned above, during my detention in 2014; I encountered a riot within the Morton Hall detention centre. All the detainees were locked up. It was blamed that the cause of the riot was the action of Foreign National Offenders (FNOs). It was repeatedly said by the guards all the time. I believed it because I was only a human and a vulnerable one. I did not have any external views or knowledge about anything. Honestly, I maintained that view for a very long time that FNOs are hard people and misusing the system etc. However, following my campaigning against detention and learning around detention centres, my view slightly changed. I was fighting with my views at that point but had a viewpoint of putting FNOs into my senses of ignorance.

Views and perspective change with the best understanding. I am saying this because my perspectives around FNOs changed. At JCWI, the enthusiasm and the empathy showed towards FNOs in their immigration matters shed so much light to the dark perspectives I had. Sarah Looney, the best person who showed me the first insight into the extent JCWI goes to fight to get justice from the discrimination faced by the FNOs in the immigration sector. Following which I was very fortunate to do small works on different cases concerning FNOs. There were even incidents where the solicitors had to go that extra mile even to get accommodation to prevent rough sleeping.

One very important turning point was a hearing which I attended with the Legal Director Nicola Burgess. We won permission to appeal. But I found the way the judge treated the person who was in the UK since his childhood very discriminatory. The judge said that the appellant did not integrate into the UK because he committed a crime. My mind was rumbling: Hold on a second, does that mean the UK does not have any crime? Or is it just because he is a person by birth from another country. I was so furious. Following which I asked questions to Nicola and the barrister. I was able to identify how much the system was so structurally discriminatory. I was so confident and comfortable to speak to Nicola because the way I was guided in my learning process by her was immeasurable.

The knowledge I gained over FNOs was the subject I put to test. I argued that the system in place was discriminatory in its very existence. I took this to enter into a national level essay competition run by National Accident Helpline and I was announced as a runner up in the Future Legal Mind award 2020 competition. In general things are well explained when you can show the benefit - hence, as I mentioned above, the knowledge I gained at JCWI is precious and it helped me mark a milestone in my legal career.

At JCWI, it is not only the knowledge but also, the professionalism I learned gave me the confidence to move forward without fear but with determination. Also, the friendliness is never lacking. At all point in my life, I would say it will make me emotional every time to say how good of a family of amazing people I made while at JCWI.