More than 10,000 asylum seekers will have a better chance of avoiding deportation back to potentially life-threatening persecution in their homelands, with key legal centres set to help more cases.
Asylum seekers living in the community while awaiting processing – known as the "legacy caseload" – have just one opportunity to make their claim for protection under a controversial fast-track system introduced in 2014.
They also face more stringent limits on their right to appeal negative decisions.
Victorian Legal Aid said the federal government's overhaul of the processing system had exposed nearly 30,000 people who arrived between 2012 and 2014 to the risk of unfair decision-making that could have them returned to countries where they would not be safe.
A new two-year initiative, to be launched by the state government, will now enable community legal centres Refugee Legal and Justice Connect to assist thousands of asylum seekers living in Victoria prepare visa applications and express their claims in writing.
Funded by Victoria Legal Aid, it will also bankroll specialist immigration lawyers and a co-ordinator to finalise pro-bono or low-cost legal assistance. Cases that involve court proceedings will be referred to Legal Aid migration lawyers.
Refugee Legal executive director David Manne said helping displaced people in need of safety was the "right thing for a secure community like ours to do".
"Evidence shows that legal representation for asylum seekers with legitimate protection claims to demonstrate that they are genuine refugees," he said.
"With language barriers and mental health issues stemming from a history of torture and trauma, the hurdles they often face in trying to get their refugee claims recognised are significant."
Attorney-General Martin Pakula said the program would help those most in need navigate the complex process of seeking refugee status.
"This is about helping people who have risked their lives in the hope of making a better life for themselves in Australia," he said.
Victorian Legal Aid managing director Bevan Warner said it was vital that asylum seekers' protection claims were decided fairly and lawfully.
"Early support is so important because most of these asylum seekers do not have any right to a review hearing if the government rejects their claim for protection," he said.
"We commend the Victorian legal profession whose commitment to helping these highly vulnerable asylum seekers has made this partnership and increasing their access to justice possible."