Last edited on 06/07/2011 at 09:20 AM (UTC3 Assyria)
US law students help resettle Iraqi refugees by Associated Press (AP) – May 15, 2011.
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — As a Christian human rights activist in Iraq, Ban Jamil Yousef Katto lived in fear. Her priest and friends were killed in a church massacre and nearby explosions twice destroyed her apartment in Baghdad.
A documentary filmmaker referred Katto to Becca Heller Brooklyn, N.Y., a recent Yale Law School graduate who started the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project as a student. The group worked with officials to get her family evacuated to Jordan in January and is helping them resettle in the United States.
This January 2010 photo released by the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project shows student project director Stephen Poellot, left, a student at Yale Law School, and Aseel Zahran, second from left, a project volunteer in Jordan, working with an Iraqi family on their resettlement case in in Amman, Jordan. The group reports it has helped resettle more than 400 Iraqi refugees in the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. (AP Photo/Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, Susannah Stevens)
"Thank God, me and my family, now we are safe," Katto, who is pregnant with her third child, said in a phone interview. "I thank Becca. She assisted so much."
Heller doesn't speak Arabic and acknowledges she's no Middle East expert. But that didn't stop her from starting a group that reports resettling more than 400 Iraqi refugees in the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Ireland and Sweden.
"I think it's an excellent initiative," said Larry Yungk, senior resettlement officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Washington. "They've been effective. Certainly refugees are here in the United States because of work they did."
IRAP has been especially effective in handling appeals of cases involving refugees rejected for resettlement in the U.S., Yungk said. The student group has won more than 100 cases, Heller said, or 90 percent of their cases.
Yungk said that compares to the traditional success rate of only about 10 percent, crediting their effectiveness to their expertise in American law.
This January 2010 photo released by the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project shows a young boy, one of nine children belonging to a single mother fleeing an abusive situation in Amman, Jordan. The family used only candlelight since they could not afford electricity, and IRAP helped the family resettle to upstate New York in 2010. The group reports it has helped resettle more than 400 Iraqi refugees in the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. (AP Photo/Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, Susannah Stevens)
While other groups offer legal assistance to refugees overseas, IRAP says it's the first organization to provide comprehensive legal representation to refugees at all stages of the resettlement process. A gay doctor said he fled Iraq for Jordan the day he faced an honor killing by his uncles. He said he later fled to another country, where he was arrested, jailed, tortured and raped, and fled back to Jordan to avoid a penalty of 700 floggings in public.
The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears for the safety of his family still in the Middle East, said he was seeking refugee status in Jordan. The U.N. agency told him he was already resettled in another country, he said, and an interviewer made fun of his sexual orientation.
Heller intervened and contacted the highest managers at the U.N. agency, who apologized and assured him his case would be treated seriously and urgently. The doctor said he was interviewed shortly after that incident and then resettled in the United States.
"I'll never forget their support and great assistance that changed my whole life and future," he wrote in a statement.
IRAP began with Heller's random idea to meet Iraqi refugees in Jordan in 2008 while in the Middle East for a human rights internship. Heller was curious about the refugees she kept hearing about, so she took a bus alone and met with six families over five days.
Heller figured she would find starving refugees, but the families told her their most pressing problem was legal: They needed help resettling in a third country because they couldn't work in Jordan and feared they would be killed if they returned to Iraq. Many groups help refugees with humanitarian needs, but it was the lack of legal assistance that Heller discovered.
She and co-founder and classmate Jonathan Finer of Washington, D.C., began recruiting Yale students and law firms to help the refugees. "IRAP is such a crazy accident," Heller said.
The group has given White House briefings and met the foreign minister of Jordan at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.
IRAP has grown to a dozen law schools in the United States and has even opened a branch at the University of Jordan. Nineteen law firms provide free legal help.
Nearly all refugees from Iraq arrive in the U.S. without the help of an attorney, according to Chris Rhatigan, spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Her agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, sends officers to U.N. refugee camps to screen potential refugees.
IRAP conducts extensive interviews of the refugees, first in person and then by Skype or phone, to document their plight. They get copies of documents, write up briefs and affidavits on the urgency of their refugee status and submit the evidence to the countries of potential resettlement.
They follow up with emails to press officials to accept the refugees. The group is pushing for reforms, such as providing details on reasons for rejection and establishing the right to an attorney during appeals.
IRAP brought a psychiatrist to the Middle East in January to evaluate nine cases, marking the first time anyone has attempted to introduce psychiatric evidence into U.S. resettlement proceedings.
Heller, who is working with the group full time, said she wants the U.S. to accept more refugees, though she acknowledges the poor economy makes that difficult.
"Literally families will live or die depending on the outcome," Heller said.
She is especially proud of the case of a family resettled last fall in New Haven. The family's application was originally rejected for failure to prove persecution, but IRAP appealed. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security overturned the decision based partially on a medical emergency involving a girl in the family suffering severe seizures, Heller said.
This January 2010 photo released by the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project shows Lauren DiMartini, right, a law student at New York University and an IRAP student director, listening to an IRAP member from the chapter at the University of Jordan School of Law, left, during a joint training session in Amman, Jordan. The group reports it has helped resettle more than 400 Iraqi refugees in the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. (AP Photo/Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, Susannah Stevens)
IRAP arranged for the girl to receive free medical treatment from a specialist and provided car pools to get the family to doctor's appointments. Students collected donations of clothing, furniture, blankets and toys and set the family up in an apartment.
The girl's father said her seizures are now under control. But he's struggling to find work.
"Maybe in the future the life will be better," he said.
\ã-'sir-é-ä\ n (1998)
1: an ancient empire of Ashur
2: a democratic state in Bet-Nahren, Assyria (northern
Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and eastern Syria.)
a democratic state that fosters the social and political rights to all of
its inhabitants irrespective of their religion, race, or gender
4: a democratic state that believes in the freedom of
religion, conscience, language, education and culture in faithfulness to the
principles of the United Nations Charter —
Ethnicity, Religion, Language
Israeli, Jewish, Hebrew
Assyrian, Christian, Aramaic
Saudi Arabian, Muslim, Arabic
\ã-'sir-é-an\ adj or n (1998)
1: descendants of the ancient empire of Ashur
2: the Assyrians, although representing but one single
nation as the direct heirs of the ancient Assyrian Empire, are now
doctrinally divided, inter sese, into five principle
ecclesiastically designated religious sects with their corresponding
hierarchies and distinct church governments, namely, Church of the
East, Chaldean, Maronite, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic.
These formal divisions had their origin in the 5th century of the
Christian Era. No one can coherently understand the Assyrians
as a whole until he can distinguish that which is religion or church
from that which is nation -- a matter which is particularly
difficult for the people from the western world to understand; for
in the East, by force of circumstances beyond their control,
religion has been made, from time immemorial, virtually into a
criterion of nationality.
the Assyrians have been referred to as Aramaean, Aramaye, Ashuraya,
Ashureen, Ashuri, Ashuroyo, Assyrio-Chaldean, Aturaya, Chaldean,
Chaldo, ChaldoAssyrian, ChaldoAssyrio, Jacobite, Kaldany, Kaldu,
Kasdu, Malabar, Maronite, Maronaya, Nestorian, Nestornaye, Oromoye,
Suraya, Syriac, Syrian, Syriani, Suryoye, Suryoyo and Telkeffee. —
1: a Semitic language which became the lingua franca of
the Middle East during the ancient Assyrian empire.
2: has been referred to as Neo-Aramaic, Neo-Syriac, Classical
Syriac, Syriac, Suryoyo, Swadaya and Turoyo.