Thirty years ago, Sonia Caton ran a free legal telephone advice line from her own flat, and her commitment to helping those who cannot afford a lawyer has not changed ever since. Today, the solicitor and migration agent advises refugees on their legal rights. She will talk about this challenging yet inspiring work at the 2014 WILPF Peacewomen Awards in South Brisbane on 2 May.
Held at COTAH restaurant / Southbank TAFE, the Peacewomen Awards acknowledge the work of four outstanding Queensland women who are committed to peace, social justice, and human rights.
This year’s theme is freedom, and guest speaker Sonia Caton said that her work relates to this concept in many ways. “Freedom can mean so many things – freedom from fear; freedom to get an education, to work; to move; to play music; to sing; to be an artist; to be an activist; freedom of expression; to chose your life partner; to practice your religion; to plan your family; to access to medical care and to have access to justice.”
“My work with asylum seekers and refugees has involved all of these lived meanings of the word ‘freedom’.”
Ms Caton has worked with the Refugee and Immigration Legal Service on and off for over 20 years, including as its Director/Principal Solicitor.
She is also a board member of the Refugee Council of Australia, a consultant to a number of organisations working with asylum seekers and a member of several other Boards and Government advisory committees. She has worked in detention centres on Christmas Island and elsewhere.
Ms Caton said that her most rewarding work has been assisting vulnerable women who have legitimate claims for protection. “My case load was consistently comprised of at least 80% female clients. I found my previous work as a criminal lawyer relevant as many had suffered terrible violence in their countries of origin.”
Asylum seekers are often criminalised in the public debate, Ms Caton said. “There has been a complete conflation of asylum seeking with criminality and being ‘at war’.”
Many politicians tend to simplify this complex matter, she said: “The issue of asylum seeking is global and it is ‘wicked’ – in that it is a very difficult one to solve.”
A multi-lateral, long term approach was necessary to address the problem, she said, but not popular with most politicians: “A highly aggressive partisan rather than a bi-partisan approach has won elections before so I think it is now hard for some politicians not to inflame the issue for political purposes.”
To hear Sonia Caton speak at the WILPF Peacewomen Awards, please register by 22 April. More information on the registrations is available on http://www.wilpf.org.au/qld-peace-women-awards. Alternatively, please contact Norma Forrest on 3207 7929 or 0407 768 873, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.