Law students aid Iraqis in gaining refugee status

The Iraqi Assistance Program, an effort by law students to help Iraqis seek refugee status, has grown immensely. This week, The National Law Journal reported that the program began in 2008 with 100 Yale Law students and now has student chapters at nine law schools and three more on the way.

The growth of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Program reflects both the commitment of law students to pro bono work and the overwhelming need of thousands of displaced Iraqis to secure refugee status, said recent Yale law graduate and project executive director Becca Heller.

The project — which Heller projected could expand to as many as 20 chapters by 2012 — appears to be the only organization in the United States devoted to assisting Iraqis seeking to resettle in other countries.

The idea came about when Heller spent the summer after her 1L year in Tel Aviv. She learned about the problems facing Iraqi refugees, many of them stuck in limbo in Jordan and Syria, where they lack legal status. She traveled to Amman, Jordan, and met with six refugees.

“All were in heartbreakingly tragic situations,” she said. “They didn’t really understand the refugee process. I was sort of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and thought, ‘Law students can help with this.’ ”

Back at Yale, Heller joined forces with fellow law student Jonathan Finer, who was working to resettle some Iraqi interpreters he had met while embedded with the U.S. military as a reporter for the Washington Post.

They discovered myriad hurdles facing refugees — including a lack of understanding about the process; the numerous interviews they must complete; and the massive amounts of paperwork they must submit. Many refugees suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the prospect of repeated interviews — in which they must discuss why they are persecuted or unsafe in Iraq — can be difficult and painful, Heller said.

The project has secured the declassification through the Freedom of Information Act of more than 5,000 pages of government documents pertaining to refugee processing. Heller finds that these refugees are fighting so hard for their own survival and recognizes  that the United States has “special obligation” to take in Iraqi refugees displaced from the war.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment