We in SYMAAG and many others involved in Sheffield’s stressed but dynamic asylum scene were greatly saddened to hear of Gina’s death. She has been one of the key people helping to ensure that asylum seekers who find themselves in Sheffield can access a wide range of support from the voluntary sector.
Gina was a distinguished academic specialising in immigration law. She was in the law department of the University of Huddersfield for many years and more recently was Clinic Supervisor of Sheffield Hallam University’s HKC Refugee Law Clinic. With Georgina Firth, she co-authored an important law textbook – Immigration and Asylum Law, the ninth edition of was published by the Oxford University Press this year.
One of Gina’s characteristics was a passionate concern about the human rights of asylum seekers and other migrants. This led her, despite her many other commitments, to take on the role of Chair of ASSIST for six years. ASSIST is an invaluable organisation providing support at any time to some 90 asylum seekers who have been refused asylum and whom the state has ceased to support. Gina gave powerful leadership to ASSIST in difficult times.
In March 2010, we in SYMAAG held a meeting about legal aspects of asylum at Sheffield University. Gina spoke alongside Frances Webber, an immigration lawyer from London. The meeting stimulated Gina, John Donkersley, an immigration solicitor, and others to create South Yorkshire Refugee Law and Justice (SYRLJ) – a charity offering free access to legal services for asylum seekers. SYRLJ often will build up information about a case so that a practising solicitor can take it on confidently. It also harnesses the skills of volunteer law students. This work has become all the more valuable as legal aid for refused asylum seekers has been increasingly hard to obtain in recent years.
Gina took on a great deal. She would devote herself to supporting people with harrowing problems and then switch to work on the wider policies which were causing individual distress. One tribute describes her as ‘petite in person but huge in presence.’ She had remarkable qualities – passion, intellect, organising skill, good humour and generosity of spirit. She will be greatly missed and we also remember her husband Mike Fitter in his loss.
David Price, on behalf of SYMAAG