This is the twenty-third installment of our Alumni Spotlight series, which features interviews with former IRAP students who have become strong advocates and leaders in their fields of practice.
Meet Ryan Corbett, Associate Refugee Status Determination Officer at the UNHCR.
The views expressed here are entirely her own.
How did you become involved with IRAP and how did IRAP impact your law school experience?
I first learned about IRAP after attending a conference at Yale. I thought it was an amazing organisation, but there was no chapter at my law school so I spoke with an IRAP staff member and went through all the logistics required to open a chapter at Boston University. After a few months, we were able to start a small chapter and begin doing case work. It was an amazing challenge to bring something like this to BU Law, but also allowed me to meet and work with many other law students who were interested in refugee and immigration law and who I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet. Law school can feel like an isolating experience for those interested in public interest law, particularly international public interest law, and IRAP gave me an outlet to meet, connect, and work with those passionate about the same thing I am.
IRAP’s law school chapter members provide aid to our clients and support for our legal, litigation, and policy advocacy initiatives. Please describe your experience working on IRAP projects to secure and expand pathways to safety for displaced people.
Though I had worked and interned before law school at non-profit organisations dedicated to providing assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, IRAP gave me hands-on case experience that had a tangible outcome for clients, which many of my previous jobs did not have. In addition, the IRAP model provides a level of guidance and mentorship from attorneys at law firms that had quite a deep impact on my thinking around such cases.
One case I worked on required a medical check that the client had no means to pay for himself. My chapter spent quite a bit of time brainstorming a fundraiser that would get the wider BU Law community involved, and settled on a bake sale in front of the main cafeteria. This simple bake sale was one of my favourite law school memories, as it forced me to remember that we as lawyers can have a deep impact on our clients through means other than the law, and demonstrated how much the BU Law community showed up for this client in his time of need. We raised more than was necessary and were able to donate the rest to another client who had other costs he could not cover.
What have you been doing since you graduated from law school?
Since graduating law school, I have worked in Malaysia, France, and Türkiye in the field of refugee law. I began working for an NGO called Asylum Access Malaysia, where I started as a caseworker in a team providing legal representation to refugees having their asylum claims decided by UNHCR. Simultaneously, I had the opportunity to run two family reunification and complementary pathways pilot projects at Asylum Access. In France, I worked at Jesuit Refugee Service focusing on advocacy during the elections for the European Parliament. I have now been with UNHCR for over two years, working in Malaysia in a Refugee Status Determination Unit, and in Türkiye on resettlement and complementary pathways.
In what ways has your involvement with IRAP in law school impacted your career?
IRAP gave me a way to learn how to provide comprehensive client services and propelled my career in refugee law and rights. It gave me the confidence to approach individual case work after law school head on and the conviction to jump at the chance to work on cutting edge projects such as the expansion of access to family reunification or complementary pathways for individuals who cannot benefit from resettlement.
At a time when refugees have been more politicized than ever, how do you engage with the issue on a personal level?
Working in this field has kept me constantly challenged, but also filled me with hope for changes both for individuals and systemically. There is a lot to be learned from working in different countries, which each have different contexts and considerations for refugee rights and asylum processing. I’ve enjoyed getting to engage with a few of these contexts and look forward to working in other places in future.