People We Serve

IRAP is the first organization to provide comprehensive legal representation to refugees throughout the registration, protection, and resettlement processes, working in some of the world’s regions most traumatized by war, hostility, and political upheaval. Since our establishment, we have provided legal assistance to more than 10,300 refugees, and have resettled more than 3,100 individuals from conflict zones to safe new countries. IRAP provides pro bono legal representation, legal advice, and expert referrals to refugees all over the world.

IRAP’s goal is to ensure that available services and legal protections go to those who are most in need. Utilizing our grassroots networks amongst particularly difficult-to-access populations, we work to identify and empower many of the world’s most at-risk refugees, including LGBTI individuals, religious minorities subject to targeted violence, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, children with medical emergencies for which local treatment is not available, and interpreters being hunted down by the Islamic State, militias, and the Taliban in retaliation for their work with the United States and NATO.

Female Survivors of Sexual or Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)

Female refugees are uniquely susceptible to sexual and physical abuse, trafficking, and sexual slavery in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) because of their lesser legal status and lack of rights. Displaced or abused women are excluded from traditional human rights protocols, and most MENA countries do not recognize the basic rights of women, including the right to custody of their children.

In 2013, we began adapting our successful LGBTI program framework to serve the needs of women at risk in Iraq. Today, we provide a range of services to Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi, Somali, and Syrian women at risk. IRAP works extensively with this population, providing services that include legal representation, emergency protection, extraction from violent situations, and advocacy to make the resettlement process accessible both to women who have been trafficked, and to those who have fled abusive situations with children and are struggling to obtain legal custody. We use grassroots outreach among refugee populations to find, screen, and take on the most vulnerable women as clients; connect women to health, mental health, housing, and psychosocial services; and provide access to local attorneys for custody and divorce matters.

U.S.-Affiliated Iraqi and Afghan Wartime Allies

IRAP strives to ensure that the over 75,000 Iraqis and Afghans who are persecuted for their assistance to the United States are not forgotten as America’s physical presence in the region diminishes. Congress recognized that the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who provided valuable support to American forces in those countries would face a backlash for their American affiliation, and created Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs for persecuted allies to seek refuge in the United States. IRAP is the foremost expert in, and advocate for, SIV cases and program reforms. Although IRAP’s role in the SIV process was at first procedural—pairing SIV applicants with pro bono attorneys and law students who could assist candidates in navigating the various administrative processes—our expertise quickly made us the leading policy advocate for making the SIV process more fair, efficient, and inclusive.

Over the past five years, IRAP has advocated for, and won, a number of legislative extensions to both the Iraqi and Afghan SIV programs; groundbreaking access to counsel and due process provisions, such as the right to appeal a ruling; greater administrative transparency; and, crucially, a dramatic increase in the number of visas issued and the speed with which visas are processed. IRAP helped ensure the passage of five pieces of legislation that guaranteed visas to U.S.-affiliated allies—with overwhelming bipartisan support—through the 113th Congress. These systemic victories have benefited over 120,000 U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and Afghans.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Refugees

LGBTI individuals throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have long been persecuted by militias, religious extremists, and, sadly, their own families and communities. They are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to displacement, exclusion from laws that might afford protection, and a lack of recognized international human rights safeguards.

IRAP’s work with LGBTI refugees has increased dramatically since we took our f irst LGBTI case in 2009; we are now one of the only organizations providing direct legal assistance to LGBTI refugee populations in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. Our LGBTI program began when we were able to resettle three gay Iraqi refugees living in Jordan and Syria to a safe country in record time. Those cases demonstrated that IRAP’s approach to resettlement could be effective in aiding populations persecuted for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Since that time, we have provided legal representation to dozens of LGBTI refugees around the world.

IRAP’s advocacy has led to positive outcomes for individual refugees and to systemic policy advances, including: the creation of a special expedite category for LGBTI refugees seeking admission to the United States; documentation that led the Netherlands to change its asylum policy to recognize LGBTI Iraqis as a uniquely vulnerable population; and the establishment of the first precedent for an in-country referral by the U.S. Embassy in Iraq of a transgender man who would not otherwise have qualified for processing. This advance created an in-country processing system for LGBTI refugees in Iraq that was later codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual, the Department of State’s comprehensive guidance document, as a life-saving mechanism available to any U.S. Embassy in the world.

We are currently working with our diverse network of allied organizations to advocate for a lift of the ban on access to counsel for LGBTI refugees seeking resettlement to the United States, and for broader use of in-country processing authority for internally displaced LGBTI individuals.

Children with Medical Emergencies

Nearly all refugees lack access to quality medical care, but those with chronic diseases or complex conditions are most at risk of death. Juvenile health outcomes are particularly poor, in part because many young people have lacked healthcare for the majority of their lives, and because the use of chemical weapons in conflicts has led to a high rate of juvenile cancers.

For many children, the only hope for treatment is to be granted humanitarian parole to temporarily visit a developed country to receive free medical treatment for worsening or chronic conditions. IRAP works with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the ground to identify children with such needs and ensure that their requests for entry are expedited.

Persecuted Religious Minorities

Across the globe, religious minorities have long histories of being persecuted. The conflicts and growing religious extremism in the Middle East have rendered many religious minorities more susceptible to abuse than at any time in recent history. In Syria and Iraq, IRAP has worked with several different populations subject to targeted violence, particularly amid the rise of the Islamic State, including: Assyrian Christians, Chaldeans, Sabean-Mandeans, and the Yazidis. We work with these populations regardless of their religious affiliation, helping them escape immediate threats, find safe harbors, and seek resettlement.

Many of these cases receive expedited treatment, enabling these refugees to build new lives in the United States and several European countries. IRAP is currently working with the European Union and U.S. authorities to decrease processing times for threatened religious minorities. We also participated in drafting and introducing to the U.S. Congress the Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act of 2015, which, if passed, will provide special protection to religious minorities fleeing persecution by the Islamic State.

Emerging Refugee Populations

The protracted war in Syria has resulted in the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis in decades: according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over four million Syrian refugees are now displaced in neighboring countries. Because of resource constraints and delays, many of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are not receiving the assistance they need and have turned to smugglers as an alternative.

UNHCR offices have requested IRAP’s assistance in locating, documenting, and referring at-risk Syrian cases for registration, protection, and resettlement. We have utilized our grassroots networks, particularly among LGBTI populations and women at risk, to refer individuals to UNHCR who otherwise would not be able to safely register, receive aid and local protection, and apply for resettlement as appropriate. Being able to locate and serve Syrian refugees in these countries of first asylum will also give lifelines to those who otherwise might turn to boats.

IRAP has developed a specific set of program and policy agenda items to try to address the systemic failures in countries of first asylum to locate and assist the most vulnerable refugees. We are adding staff to our Middle East offices to bolster these efforts, provide capacity-building and training to local organizations, and support the efforts of UNHCR to screen, protect, identify, and resettle the Syrian refugees most in need.

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