Posted by: srari1 | December 7, 2010

First day at HRF

By Sayomi Ariyawansa

I’m ashamed to admit it, but as honesty must be preserved in all circumstances, I know I must. My first thought today, on the morning of my very first day of the work which brought me 21 hours away from home was: “What am I going to wear?”

In my defence, this isn’t because I am abominably vain but because it is freezing outside. So I passed over my more professional outerwear and bundled up in a coat which makes me look like Roald Dahl’s Violet Beauregarde and walked through the flurry of snow to the New York office of Human Rights First on Seventh Avenue in the heart of the Garment District.

Human Rights First is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation which engages in human rights advocacy through varied means. It performs policy work, litigation and facilitates access to legal support (to name a few things). HRF started out focusing on the protection of the rights of refugees, but now tackles a wide range of issues. However, I am in the Refugee Protection Program team.

Today, I met my lovely and welcoming co-workers and began to familiarise myself with the US processing system for asylum seekers. I have had experience working with asylum seekers in Australia, so my automatic response to all the information I receive is to compare it against the Australian system.

One thing the Refugee Protection Program does is link up pro bono lawyers with asylum seekers (who have already passed the program’s internal intake process). As part of my introduction, I watched the training video provided for these lawyers and was able to hear the perspective of a government official and an immigration judge on the asylum seeking process. This was a very unusual experience for me. I have only ever seen the refugee advocate’s side of the process and to hear the opinions and thoughts of individuals who are the decision-makers got me thinking about issues in an entirely different way.

It’s only the start, but I’m very excited about what is to come. It is very interesting to process all this new information with the background of the Australian system providing a comparative context. What I am most looking forward at the moment is assisting with a client interview on Wednesday. This particular client has an incredibly unique story to tell.


  1. Hey Sayomi,
    Its a good thing that you are comparing both systems of processing! Good luck with everything*)

  2. Great to hear your first day went well Sayomi! Sounds like you’re going to be doing some amazing work while you’re over there! All the best and look forward to reading more of your updates 🙂

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