October 19, 2020

Law students give legal aid to Syrian refugees

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Idomeni, Greece-- December 4, 2015--A immigrant woman having what appeared to be a panic attack is helped by other immigrants as desperate asylum-seekers of three accepted nationalities queue to enter FYROM/Macedonia from Greece. Macedonia enacted new border restrictions that limit accepted asylum seekers to Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis.  (Photo by Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***

Idomeni, Greece– December 4, 2015–A immigrant woman having what appeared to be a panic attack is helped by other immigrants as desperate asylum-seekers of three accepted nationalities queue to enter FYROM/Macedonia from Greece. Macedonia enacted new border restrictions that limit accepted asylum seekers to Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis. (Photo by Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***

By Karen Sloan, From The National Law Journal
Law students from around the country are assisting Syrians fleeing their war-torn homeland—and gaining practical experience at the same time.
John Marshall Law School in Chicago next week will launch the Human Rights for Syrians Initiative, a project under the school’s International Human Rights Clinic that will offer both direct representation in asylum cases and non-legal support to Syrian refugees in Illinois.
Meanwhile, a consortium of student organizations at 27 law schools has been aiding Syrian refugees through the International Refugee Assistance Project, which housed by the . About 700 student volunteers nationwide partner with pro bono attorneys through the project and advocate for oversees clients fleeing persecution.
Syrians now make up about 15 percent of the 500 clients currently represented by the law school chapters of the International Refugees Assistance Project, and their numbers are growing as the conflict worsens, said , and fellow with the Project.
“We work with a lot of Syrian refugees. Many have lost loved ones. Many have medical needs because of torture or extreme psychological trauma,” Doss said. “It’s an extremely vulnerable population.”
An estimated 320,000 Syrians have been killed since that country’s civil war began and and more than 3 million have fled the country.
Under the guidance of pro bono attorneys, law students volunteering with the International Refugee Assistance Project aid refugees in their bids to gain asylum—a process that can drag on for years due to a long backlog of cases, Doss said. Asylum seekers are required to detail the persecution they face at home, which can be challenging for their legal counsel.
“You have to be very sensitive to the experiences people have faced,” Doss said. “[Asylum seekers] have to recall these horrific events in their lives, and you have to be incredibly mindful of their trauma when working with them.”
The project handles cases within both the United Nations and U.S. Department of Homeland Security frameworks, Doss said.
Some students represent clients in their initial applications for refugee status, which may involve writing briefs explaining their persecution, collecting evidence to demonstrate that persecution, or performing mock interviews to prepare their clients for meetings with adjudicators. Other students work on refugee appeals.
The experience is formative for many students, Doss said, some of whom graduate and return to the project as supervising pro bono attorneys.
John Marshall’s new Syrian initiative was developed by clinical professor Sarah Davila-Ruhaak, who is half Turkish. Her mother still lives in Turkey, which as been inundated with Syrians seeking safety.
“There is such a need out there,” she said. “There’s no way I could not get involved in this.”
The law school’s clinics had previously represented a handful of Syrians to obtain housing, medical help, and job training locally. But Davila-Ruhaak believed more should be done, especially after learning that many Syrian refugees in Illinois rely on information passed among each other via Facebook about social services.
“It’s wonderful that they can connect with each other on Facebook, but the lack of communication between refugees and social service providers is a real barrier,” she said.
Hence, the project is taking a broad approach, offering both direct legal assistance and non-legal assistance on matters such obtaining public benefits and housing. “Basically, we’ll make sure they don’t fall through the cracks,” Davila-Ruhaak said.
The clinic will refer cases it cannot handle to pro bono attorneys.
Student interest has been robust thus far. Sixteen John Marshall students are signed up for the clinic this semester and many more have asked to volunteer with the initiative. Arabic-speaking law students will interpret for the Syrian clients. The school is seeking additional pro bono attorneys to supervise cases and social service providers with which to partner.
“I just hope we can have a positive impact on the community and continue to welcome Syrian refugees to Illinois despite the negative rhetoric from the media and politicians,” Davila-Ruhaak said.
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IMAGE: An immigrant woman is helped by others as desperate asylum-seekers try to enter Macedonia. Photo: Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto via
For more on this story go to: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202746810682/Law-Students-Give-Legal-Aid-to-Syrian-Refugees#ixzz3x2v5v4mI

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