Our Model

IRAP’s innovative model saves refugees’ lives, assures their passage to safe destination countries, and shapes thought and practice in the United States and around the globe to ensure fair and humane treatment of refugees. 

IRAP’s approach is grounded in three distinct but interrelated strategies: 

1. IRAP has created a “virtual public interest law firm” that defies geographical boundaries and provides high quality representation to refugees by a cadre of 1,200 law students and over 800 pro bono attorneys. This model is scalable and allows IRAP to take on an increasing number of urgent refugee cases, as well as respond to immediate crises such as the chaos at airports following the implementation of the travel ban signed by President Trump.

2. Through extensive litigation and systemic advocacy, IRAP is bringing legal challenges to refugee rights violations in the courts, creating solutions to overcoming the legal and bureaucratic impediments in the resettlement process, and developing an enforceable system of legal and procedural rights for refugees and displaced persons worldwide. As the only organization that guides refugees through every step of the resettlement labyrinth, IRAP is often able to identify obstacles of which other institutional players are unaware. Our unique model utilizes lessons learned in individual casework to advocate for systemic changes that benefit broader refugee populations.

3. Finally, a crucial prong of IRAP’s approach is to train the next generation of international human rights advocates through our law school chapters. These advocates are essential to assuring fairness, decency, and adherence to the rule of law throughout the refugee resettlement process and promoting pro-refugee policies throughout the country.

The Evolution of IRAP

In 2008, five students founded IRAP as an extracurricular organization at Yale Law School: one was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; another was a journalist who had reported from Iraq; three others had worked with refugees. Shortly after they launched IRAP, law student counterparts at New York University and U.C. Berkeley founded IRAP chapters. The law students realized the importance of engaging pro bono attorneys to provide direct legal representation to refugees overseas who had never before had access to counsel.

In 2010, IRAP joined the Urban Justice Center, a public interest organization that is home to twelve New York-based legal service and systemic advocacy projects.

Since that time, IRAP has built an in-house staff based in New York and established offices in Jordan and Lebanon. Our network of legal representatives has also grown substantially: today, there are 29 IRAP chapters at law schools in the United States and Canada, supported in their work by over 75 international law firms and multinational corporations that provide pro bono assistance.

IRAP began by serving Iraqi refugees because of the clear obligations of Western countries, and the United States in particular, to provide relief to those who were unintended victims of the Iraq War. Since our inception, IRAP has expanded to assist refugees from over 50 countries of origin. In 2015, IRAP rebranded as the International Refugee Assistance Project to more accurately reflect the life-saving work we perform on behalf of vulnerable refugees around the world.

In 2017, IRAP added a litigation team to its New York staff to better respond to refugee and immigrants rights violations in the United States.

Student & Attorney Partnerships

What began at a single law school has since grown into a legal movement: a unique model of partnering law students with pro bono lawyers allows IRAP to leverage every $1 spent into $10 in legal aid.

IRAP utilizes in-kind, volunteer, and student resources to provide direct services to refugees and pursue systemic advocacy, all while maintaining very low overhead. Our 29 law school chapters partner with over 75 international law firms and multinational corporations, deploying teams of law students and lawyers to work on urgent refugee resettlement cases.

The model ensures high-quality case performance, engages top-tier firms and law schools in refugee advocacy, and trains the next generation of lawyers to become international human rights advocates.

In the Field

IRAP’s field offices in Amman, Jordan and Beirut, Lebanon are an essential part of IRAP’s holistic and international strategy. Jordan and Lebanon host a vast number of refugees from Syria and Iraq, and having a team of lawyers and caseworkers on the ground allows us, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international governmental organizations (IGOs), and governmental partners, to swiftly identify refugees in dire need of assistance and help them with resettlement to a safe, third country.

Our field staff in Amman and Beirut are responsible for the intake and screening processes of prospective clients, representation of clients before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), emergency response programming, and the expansion of IRAP’s geographical scope to work with the most at-risk refugee populations. Our overseas teams have also been on the frontline of identifying and expanding alternative and complementary pathways for resettlement across the globe.

Having built solid reputations among the local refugee communities, our field offices reach even the most vulnerable populations and individuals who may otherwise be hesitant to reveal themselves to an aid agency.

IRAP’s field offices also play a crucial role in relationship-building with partner organizations including UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and others in the humanitarian protection space. Our field teams’ relationships with other NGOs on the ground create a referral network, so that even in situations in which IRAP is unable to provide legal assistance, we can facilitate contact with social workers, domestic legal counsel, protection officers, and mental health professionals, as well as access to housing and medical care.

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