Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)
Arthur is working for the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) in Beirut, Lebanon. IRAP works with Iraqis displaced by violence, and is the only organization that provides complex legal assistance to individual refugees abroad during the resettlement process. IRAP clients are stateless people who are completely outside any system that would defend them. For them, resettlement in a country that recognizes the human rights of refugees is the only hope. This summer, Arthur will work with one other intern in Lebanon on resettlement for members of the extremely vulnerable Iraqi LGBT population. Additionally, he will conduct intake interviews of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, prepare them for the UNHCR and USCIS refugee determination processes, work on requests for reconsideration and expedite requests, as well as coordinate with local NGOs to increase awareness of IRAP within the Iraqi Refugee community in Lebanon.
I have been in Beirut for two weeks now, and the time has gone by in a flash. The city is a fascinating contradiction. As I write this, I am spending my Sunday working from a roof top café in Downtown Beirut overlooking the Mediterranean. I currently have no power at my house less than two miles from here. Usually, each area in Beirut loses power for three hours per day, but due to the political instability / corruption, sometimes we lose power for 16 hours per day. Fortunately, Downtown Beirut, normally the summer playground for wealthy Saudis, is virtually empty and I am able to take advantage of their power generators and slightly faster than dial-up internet speeds (Saudi Arabia placed a travel ban on Lebanon shortly after I arrived and recalled all Saudi Citizens).
I first became involved with IRAP after returning to the U.S. from Amman, Jordan last summer. While in Amman, I became aware of the massive amount of Iraqis that were living in the city after fleeing violence in Iraq in the wake of the US-Iraq war. This is a population that is extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses, as they are essentially stateless people living throughout most of the Middle East and unable to work legally. Only Egypt, Israel and Yemen are signatories to the UN 1951 Refugee Convention, and while other countries recognize a UNHCR Refugee Status Determination, this does not imbue the individual with any rights other than a stay of deportation. If a refugee is caught doing something illegal, such as being gay (a crime in Lebanon) they can be imprisoned and tortured by the state until they are granted resettlement by a third country (often a process lasting years).
Immediately after arriving in Beirut, I began working on a project to resettle at-risk LGBT individuals from Iraq. LGBT's in Iraq face extreme violence and persecution; militia groups actively pursue them, subjecting many to rape and execution. While not safe, Lebanon is a less dangerous location, and IRAP attempts to house our clients in the more liberal neighborhoods in Beirut while awaiting the lengthy resettlement process to a safe third country. Over the last few weeks, I have been busy counseling clients on how to prepare for interviews with UNHCR for their Refugee Status Determination, as well as securing housing for the clients and helping them get settled in Lebanon.
I have conducted client-intake interviews for refugees who have made the trek from Iraq, through Syria and into Lebanon. Due to the surge of violence and instability in Syria, there has been a recent increase in Iraqi refugees to Lebanon who had originally fled to Syria to escape violence in Iraq. It has been very interesting for me to see this part of the refugee resettlement process as the IRAP cases that I had worked on prior to interning in Lebanon all centered on legal remedies to expedite at risk cases and requests for DHS to reconsider denials of individual refugees.
Over the next few weeks, in addition to continuing to conduct intake for new IRAP clients, I will be working on appeals for the UNHCR refugee status determination and requests for reconsideration of individual refugees with DHS.
It seems incredible that my internship has just come to an end. As I sit on the flight home from Beirut, I realize how lucky I am to have had such an experience. Although I had done significant work with IRAP in the past, my internship intensified enormously immediately upon my arrival to Beirut. IRAP was in the middle of a large project to evacuate at risk LGBT Iraqi’s from Iraq. LGBT’s (and individuals who are perceived to be ‘Emo’) in Iraq face serious threats against their lives and are constantly at risk. The first half of my time in Beirut was spent helping recent evacuees be resettled and go through the UNHCR process of becoming a refugee.
The second half of my time in Beirut was spent meeting with NGO’s to coordinate a long-term intake procedure for future IRAP clients, in addition to conducting intake interviews myself. In meeting with NGOs, our goal was to create a network of organizations that funnel refugee cases to IRAP and to educate the NGOs on the types of cases that IRAP is able to work on. IRAP specializes in working with clients who have been denied resettlement by USCIS or have been denied refugee status by UNHCR to overturn these denials. This ended up being a bit of a whirlwind experience, as my colleague and I were often whisked around the city to meet with different NGOs (there seems to be a unique NGO on nearly every city block in Beirut).
The client intake interviews were extremely emotional - nearly every client that I interviewed had undergone serious trauma in Iraq and in Lebanon. One story that particularly resonated with me was a mother who had fled Iraq with her six-year old son. Ten days after her son was born, her husband was kidnapped in Iraq. She remained in Iraq searching for him for the last six years, until her son was diagnosed with Leukemia. Because she is a Christian, the hospitals in Iraq refused to give her son medical care. It was at this point that she decided to abandon her search for her husband and flee to Lebanon in the hopes that her son might be able to receive medical treatment. However, the treatment has proven extremely costly in Lebanon, and she cannot afford chemotherapy. We are in continuing negotiations with various hospitals to help get the treatment donated, and will begin to work on a case for humanitarian parole for both the mother and son to see if treatment could be donated in the United States.
Most of the individuals that I interviewed were Chaldean Christians who had been forced to flee their homes due to violence and persecution. As most of the refugees stated, many of the Christians in Iraq are accused of collaborating with U.S. or “occupying” forces and of inviting the American Army into Iraq to start the war. Based on this premise, Christian churches have been bombed and Christians have been persecuted and executed throughout much of Iraq. I worked on intake for these clients, identifying the legal issues that each faced and evaluating whether IRAP could help their case. Although the overall experience was emotionally tolling, it was incredibly rewarding to see the hope that just having an interview with IRAP brought to each refugee and to know that IRAP would use the interview to build a case for resettlement to a safe third country.