Ella, a primary school teacher, and her children, Zlata and Matvii, hail from Katyuzhanka, a village situated 60 kilometers north of Kyiv, Ukraine. Their village was among the initial areas seized during the comprehensive invasion. Witnessing the terrifying sight of planes and tanks, Ella knew she had to move her family to safety, particularly for their mental well-being, and thus, they headed to the western part of Ukraine. However, as missile strikes reached their new refuge, Ella faced the harrowing choice of leaving her homeland. Since the conflict escalated in February 2022, over 6 million individuals have sought refuge from Ukraine, with a significant number passing through Poland, where nearly a million have registered for temporary protection.

Refugees, while coping with the loss of their homes and separation from loved ones, often encounter challenges in accessing legal support and understanding their entitlements in a new country, including housing, employment, childcare, and social benefits. This is where PILnet, a global coalition of legal experts and non-profits, steps in, particularly in Poland, to assist refugees like Ella and her family.

PILnet launched a significant initiative at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum (GRF), rallying the legal sector worldwide to commit to aiding refugees and displaced persons. An initial pledge from a PILnet-led consortium of 80 law firms, legal associations, NGOs, and other entities promised an impressive 127,000 hours of pro bono legal services annually.

In the ensuing four years, amid escalating global crises and an unprecedented rise in displacement, the legal community has broadened its support. Polish lawyers quickly mobilized to assist Ukrainian refugees as they began to arrive, reflecting the sector’s deepened commitment.

By September 2023, the collective effort resulted in 585,858 pro bono hours, surpassing the initial commitment and expanding the network to 110 partnering firms and organizations.

The forthcoming second GRF in Geneva, Switzerland, from December 13-15, aims to foster collaboration among the private sector, non-profits, governments, and refugees. It will serve as a platform for global leaders to discuss challenges, opportunities, and commit to further actions in support of displaced individuals and host nations. Building on the success of the 2019 pledge, PILnet is orchestrating the 2023 GRF Legal Community Pledge, inviting additional commitments to this cause.