Name: Abdelqader Bakir
Hometown: Ramallah, Palestine
What made you volunteer as a VLA?
I am from Palestine, and I understand and have seen the reality of being a refugee through the lives of my father and his parents. I understand the pain and devastation that results from being forced to leave your country. I have always had a personal connection to the issue of refugee rights, and that made me determined to work in this field.
What was your greatest accomplishment as a VLA?
My greatest accomplishment as a VLA was an appeal I filed in response to the denial of refugee status, which I wrote in my second month. It was an extensive and adapted appeal which applied a range of legal arguments and I was proud of this. I am also pleased with the work I put into helping my clients access their rights to education and work.
What was the greatest professional challenge you faced as a VLA?
There are times when you lose hope or feel like you are not making a difference in your clients’ lives, mainly because it’s difficult to see results in a short period of time. And, in Ecuador, the way the legal and administrative systems are set up make it very difficult to see tangible results.
What do you see as the greatest challenge to asserting refugee rights in Ecuador?
Compared to some countries, Ecuador is not doing badly. Recognized refugees and recognized asylum seekers are promised the same rights as citizens. However, there are still many obstacles to refugees’ access to their rights in Ecuador. The Executive Decree 1182 has some worrying aspects, such as the automatic rejection of refugee applications presented after the first 15 days of being in the country. Other issues include bureaucratic and administrative aspects of the Ecuadorian legal and administrative systems, which unnecessarily complicate RSD procedures and put refugees in precarious migratory, legal and humanitarian situations by forcing them to go through various stages of admissibility.
Describe a typical workday in Ecuador
8 am – Arrive in the office. Catch up on cases to see if there is anything to be done, answer emails.
9-9:30 am – If it is a day where I am responsible for walk-in consultations, I begin consultations around this time. Each one lasts about 40 minutes, with the first session spent understanding a new client’s background, or assisting the case if the person is already a client. After each case, we work to prepare any legal documentation required.
12-13:00 pm – Lunch
13:00-18:00 pm – If it is a consultation day, I continue meeting with clients. If it is not, or if there are no clients, I keep working on existing cases. If clients need to be accompanied to the Ecuadorian refugee department or to open a bank account, I might go with them.
There is no typical day in legal services. Every day is different depending on new developments in existing cases and the types of new cases we have to attend to.
How will this experience shape your future career plans/goals?
Due to the amount of responsibility and direct contact with refugees, I think that this is the kind of work I’d like to continue doing. I am referring to the general field of refugees rights. I would like to work in different locations, especially in Palestine and Jordan as I have a personal connection with the people and the issues there. I would also like to develop my career in Latin America. I am also very interested in the global refugee movement. This is a global issue for which it is extremely important to create awareness, which in turn can effect policy change.
Schools Attended and Degrees Conferred
Northeastern University – B.A. International Affairs
Interview by Asylum Access Volunteer Legal Advocate Thais Pinheiro.