Stateless Legal Clinic

The Stateless Legal Clinic (SLC) is a unique service providing legal education and aid to eligible stateless children in their application for Australian citizenship.

There are an estimated 10 – 15 million stateless people in the world; approximately one third are children. Without nationality, stateless children face barriers in accessing education and healthcare; and in Australia, the threat of immigration detention and removal.

The Clinic stems from research and first-hand experience that indicates there is a critical unmet legal need for stateless children in Australia.

It is the first stateless legal clinic of its kind in Australia, and one of a few globally.

We acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Owners of the lands upon which we work.

Fadi Chalouhy childhood photo
Fadi Chalouhy as a young child with his mother Hiam Chalouhy

Our Partners and Supporters

The SLC was established in 2021, as a proud partnership between the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness, the Refugee Advice Casework Service (RACS) and the Melbourne Law School (MLS) Clinics at the University of Melbourne.

The Clinic’s work is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Cameron Foundation.

The grant has been named in honor of Hiam Chalouhy, the mother of stateless person Fadi Chalouhy, who now resides in Australia. Mr Chalouhy is the first stateless person to be granted an Australian skilled migrant visa through the ‘Talent Beyond Boundaries’ program and works closely with the SLC to oversee and support its development and operation.

In Fadi’s words -

My mother raised me on her own and faced an uphill battle for a quarter of a century trying to register me as a stateless child. Despite being poor and uneducated, she still managed to provide me with an education and a decent living. From 1991 to 2016, she exhausted all avenues in her attempt to end my statelessness, including contacting politicians, participating in women's rights protests and seeking help from lawyers. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2016 after losing her battle with cancer, 3 years before I made it to Australia where I am now a permanent resident. This grant was made to honor her sacrifices and the 25-year-old struggle she endured, attempting to give me - her child - the most basic of human rights; an identity. For 25 years my mother and I struggled to find answers or even understand what statelessness is, and how to fight it. This clinic will give every mother and child currently in this situation a fighting chance.

Our people

Katie Robertson
Katie Robertson

The SLC was established by Katie Robertson, who leads the Clinic’s work. Katie is a lawyer with previous experience in acting for stateless children to successfully apply for Australian citizenship. She also co-chairs the Stateless Children Australia Network, a network aimed at developing knowledge regarding stateless children in Australia and increasing pathways to legal assistance.

Sarah Dale
Sarah Dale

The clinical work conducted by students in the SLC is supervised by solicitors Ahmad Sawan and Sarah Dale at the Refugee Advice Casework Service (RACS). Sarah Dale is also co-chair of the Stateless Children Australia Network.

RACS’ Stateless Children Legal Project is the only specialized legal clinic in Australia providing targeted assistance to stateless children.

Ahmad Sawan
Ahmad Sawan

Student Experience

The Clinic offers MLS Juris Doctor (JD) students the opportunity to develop practical legal skills and directly assist in the delivery of essential legal services to stateless children in their application for Australian citizenship, with tangible and life changing outcomes.

‘My time at the Clinic has been the most affirming experience I have undertaken while at the Law School. Every week, there were new conversations and insights to look forward to. It was a privilege to listen to, and engage in meaningful discussions with, the many guest-speakers and friends of the Clinic throughout the weeks. On a practical level, I am thankful to have been given the opportunity to play a part in bringing about real, tangible change to stateless clients within our community. In particular, being able to meet with some of these clients towards the end of the semester was a group Clinic activity I will forever cherish. All of this was achieved under Katie’s encouraging guidance, who truly champions what it means to be a holistic and sustainable legal advocate in this field. I know that this was an experience I will carry with me - and look back on with great appreciation - for the rest of my life.’Hanna (2023 JD student)

‘The Stateless Legal Clinic was a transformative and thoroughly enjoyable unit. I gained valuable experience in hands-on client work, which was complemented by coursework on the history and theory of statelessness, as well as weekly careers visits from those working in the field of migration, refugee and statelessness law. Drawing upon her years of professional experience, Katie has thoughtfully balanced practice and theory to empower students in the Stateless Legal Clinic to become confident, compassionate and creative public interest lawyers. Moreover, Katie is an excellent mentor who fostered a environment in which each student felt valued and supported. I would encourage any student with an interest in public interest law to apply for the Stateless Legal Clinic!’ – Nuria (2023 JD student)

'The Stateless Legal Clinic has been truly formative in my professional legal development and my understanding of what it means to be a human lawyer. I am grateful for Katie's support in providing the perfect balance of guidance and independence to foster an amazing learning environment. By assisting stateless clients in their applications for Australian citizenship, I felt that I was able to make a tangible difference in people's lives while also making an incredible group of friends along the way.' – Michael (2023 JD student)

The Stateless Legal Clinic presents a unique opportunity to use the legal skills you have developed in law school to make a real difference in our community. Through this subject, I’ve made lifelong friends and learnt from numerous experts in different areas of public interest law. The client facing work was my favourite part, as we used the skills we had gained throughout the semester to tangibly support applications for citizenship and thereby increase access to basic rights. – Thenu (2023 JD student)

‘My semester at the Stateless Children Legal Clinic has been the most impactful experience in my degree. The clinic taught me so much about lawyering in practice and allowed me to develop so many important skills that I will take forth into my future career. Katie’s oversight, as well as having my own clients, meant that there was a great balance between useful supervision and independence. Being able to hear from the lived experience of stateless individuals, as well gain career advice from professionals working in the field, has also been invaluable and given me a completely new perspective. Overall, being able to make a difference in my clients’ lives was definitely the highlight of my experience and has produced memories that I will cherish forever.’ – Anna (2022 JD student)

‘The clinic has been one of the most rewarding experiences during law school. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn more about statelessness in Australia and recognise the importance of lawyers in this space to assist what is such a vulnerable sector of the community. My experience at the clinic in helping stateless children to obtain citizenship has opened my eyes to the need for reform to ease the process as well as has allowed me to develop meaningful relationships with clients and further develop my legal practical skills.’ – Georgina (2022 JD student)

‘Interning at the Stateless Children Legal Clinic gave me the chance to contribute my skills and experience to meaningful legal work that helped produce real world outcomes for our clients. Working at the Clinic not only showed me the daily human-impact of law and its practice, but also allowed me to be a part of the life-changing work community based legal services provide. As a student, it was a privilege to be able to work with someone like Katie who is leading the charge in the fight to end statelessness in Australia. Getting hands-on practical work with clients at the Clinic, particularly where the work has such a profound impact, will be the highlight of my education.’ – Connor (2022 JD student)

‘Working at the Stateless Legal Clinic has been one of the highlights of my time at Melbourne Law School. It has been an immensely rewarding experience to directly assist stateless families with their children's citizenship applications. Working with clients, with the supervision, support and guidance of Katie Robertson, has also afforded me the opportunity to greatly grow my practical and technical legal skills.’ – Sophie (2022 JD student)

‘Interning at the Stateless Children Legal Clinic has been an experience unparalleled with anything else in my three years at law school. The opportunity to engage first-hand with clients has equipped me with a wealth of practical legal skills, and provided me with humbling insights into the challenges faced by stateless persons in Australia.’ – Claudia (2021 JD student)

‘It is amazing to know that I am making such a big difference in the children's lives while also gaining valuable knowledge and experience. The internship exceeded my expectations. I loved being able to lead and learn at the same time. I enjoyed being assigned clients and working with them. It was such an amazing experience. Being supervised by Katie during my internship made me feel supported and motivated. Through Katie and the statelessness clinic I was able to become familiar with an issue that is widespread in Australia and requires urgent attention.’ -  Zahraa (2021 JD student)

SCLC interns

Prospective JD students interested in learning more can register their interest in the Clinic by completing the online registration form.

Aust citizenship form

Learn more

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With thanks to VMLY&R for producing this incredible video, pro bono

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Further Information

For further general enquiries regarding the SLC, please contact clinic coordinator Katie Robertson - katie.robertson@unimelb.edu.au

To register your interest in the Clinic or to stay updated regarding developments on the issue of child statelessness in Australia, submit your details.

Prospective JD students interested in learning more can register their interest in the Clinic by completing the online registration form.

See also:
Melbourne Law School Clinics
The Refugee Advice Casework Service