Posted by: nabilabuhary | January 18, 2012

Interning at Human Rights First

By Nabila Buhary, Global Intern at Human Rights First, New York City

My name is Nabila and I’m interning at Human Rights First (HRF) in the Refugee Protection Program. Human Rights First is located in New York, on Seventh Avenue, close to Times Square. My first day at HRF was jetlagged. I’d landed two days before and completely underestimated my body’s ability to adjust to the time difference. Nevertheless, New York is stimulating enough and I attempted to refrain from sleeping for the first few days. After my first weekend of wandering, I made my way to HRF. When I arrived I was taken on a tour of the office, complete with a colour coded map, and introduced to everyone. Everyone who works at HRF is friendly and approachable, and I’ve really enjoyed working here for the past month!

One of the perks of working at HRF - close to everything!

Luckily, I was then given a DVD outlining the asylum application process in the United States. It was the same DVD given to pro bono lawyers who work with the Refugee Protection Program. I basically had no knowledge of the legal process for asylum seekers in the U.S, so a first day of jetlag, DVD watching and manual reading was actually quite good.

The application process is in some ways similar to the Australian system. In very basic terms, an asylum seeker needs to file a form (I-589) within one year of entering the United States. After the relevant forms and background checks have been completed, an interview is scheduled. This is where the individual seeking asylum presents their story. Much like Australia, asylum seekers don’t really have access to legal representation. Immigration law and U.S. asylum law is quite complicated. Both the U.S. and Australia follow the definition in the Refugee Convention as stated in Article 1A(2). This essentially states that a person must have a well-founded fear of persecution for a Convention reason. The applicant needs to establish that they have a claim on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or because they are part of a particular social group. While this appears to be simple enough, meeting the definition can prove to be quite difficult. Many, if not most, applicants have little to no understanding of the law or the U.S. legal system.  The language barrier further complicates this process. Perhaps the greatest issue is the fact that many asylum seekers do not have affordable access to legal representation. Entering the legal system is a daunting process, keeping in mind that applicants have fled their country of origin because of persecution. Unfortunately this process is made more complicated by the fact that the U.S. government is able to challenge a finding. This means that if the claim is granted the U.S. government can appeal. HRF offers clients pro bono, or free, legal advice through the Asylum Legal Representation Program. More information about the program can be found on the HRF website.

So far, as part of my internship at HRF, I have met with clients from South America and Africa. I might leave it at that for now. Until my next blog post!

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