Last updated on March 31, 2020
As the pandemic continues its spread globally, forced migrants all over the world stand to feel the effects of these trying times especially severely. We cannot–and will not–abandon our advocacy during this most critical time. IRAP’s staff and volunteers will continue to provide legal services to the world’s most vulnerable individuals and adapt our life-saving work to the rapidly changing landscape caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
Here are some of the ways IRAP is continuing to operate and adapt in the current climate:
As we continue our work to assist displaced people around the world, our priority is the safety of our clients and the global community. Because of our remote legal aid model, the COVID-19 crisis has not dramatically impacted the way we conduct our work. We are uniquely positioned in this current environment to continue carrying out our programming, and to help other organizations set up similar remote assistance mechanisms.
The ability to effectively connect displaced people with the resources they need remotely is more valuable than ever amidst this crisis. We are leveraging our expertise in remote legal aid coordination by working with partners such as Humanitarian Corridors to establish remote processing of applications for highly vulnerable refugees. We are also working with partners to advise on using video conferencing technology to conduct procedures such as credibility assessment interviews. These measures will help to ensure there is a pipeline of already approved applications when resettlement restrictions are lifted and it is once again safe to travel.
In the meantime, we are responding to the impact on our clients resulting from changes to and suspension of various refugee and visa processes, as well as border closures and travel bans issued by several countries, including the United States. We are closely monitoring which pathways to safety continue to be open and are providing our clients with up to date information and legal counseling, with an emphasis on safety.
Obviously, these new challenges have been difficult on our clients and on our staff, who continue to look for creative ways to serve refugees. The freeze in refugee resettlement is having a profound impact on our clients, many of whom face intense poverty and uncertain housing situations as they now have to wait even longer to reach safety. In response to this, IRAP is providing highly vulnerable clients in urgent situations with emergency funds to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. We are also closely tracking available public health resources to help clients get access to medical care and mental health support.
U.S. and Global Programs
In the United States, although the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program has been suspended temporarily, processing of family reunification petitions is still ongoing, and we are continuing to provide assistance with petition submissions. For Afghans and Iraqis applying to the U.S. Special Immigrant Visa program, we are able to continue to assist clients with filing appeals, as these are still being processed, even if travel is not possible at this time. Further, our policy team is organizing coalition actions, including sign-on letters urging the Departments of State and Homeland Security to ensure that refugees and immigrants applying to travel to the United States are not unjustly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our litigation team is also poised to challenge unlawful policies that may arise in light of these events, should the current administration seek to exploit this crisis in order to curtail refugee and immigrant rights.
Globally, we are able to make emergency referrals to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for critical cases, and while our clients await processing, we are connecting them to social support services when available. We hope to encourage the processing of cases to continue so that our clients are in the best possible position when the COVID-19 crisis abates.
As courts remain open, we are also continuing to litigate on behalf of our clients. For example, on March 23 we won a significant court case in France on behalf of a separated Afghan family. A husband and his two daughters were asylum seekers in Greece seeking reunion with his wife and son in France. Our team took the case to court after their application was unlawfully refused. The court ruled in the family’s favor and ordered that the application be processed within 15 days. We are hopeful that this decision is the first of many successful challenges that open the door for family reunification for many other separated families.
Finally, on an organizational level, while we are all grappling with the personal impact of this public health crisis for ourselves and our families, our staff has made the necessary work adjustments to adapt to this new environment and to provide guidance for those seeking safety. As an organization, we are well positioned with the necessary infrastructure to make the transition to remote work, as many of our employees already work remotely on a permanent basis, traveling as needed. At the same time, we are prioritizing the safety, well being and morale of our staff during this transition.
These are unprecedented and challenging times, but our work continues to protect the rights of those fleeing violence, war, and persecution.