Reflections from DC

A letter drafted following a trip to Washington DC, with considerations from San Francisco.

Dear Friends,

April was an exciting month for Asylum Access:  Our team led workshops for colleagues from across Asia in an Asian Refugee Legal Aid Network (ARLAN) convening in Kuala Lumpur, presented a claim for reparations for wrongful detention of a refugee before the Ecuadorian Supreme Court, and – through our partnership with Refugees United in Tanzania– reunited a Congolese refugee mother and her daughter in Tanzania, who had been separated by conflict in their home countries.

Behind every one of the successes of Asylum Access is, of course, a courageous refugee client for whom standing up for justice, fairness and due process involves resilient inner strength.  In our line of work, I find it inspiring to take a step back and marvel at the potential for change that empowered refugees have. Let me share with you a snippet of what I mean:

Early this month, our three country directors, Emily and I collectively flew over 75 hours to Washington DC to join an LGBTI Refugee Convening that brought together civil society groups, UNHCR officials and government representatives to discuss better solutions for refugees persecuted for their sexuality. All refugees exist in vulnerable circumstances, but LGBTI refugees face additional challenges, which we need to address with particular expertise, resources, and knowledge.

A senior UNHCR official spoke as part of a panel, reaffirming his organization’s commitment to renew efforts to protect LGBTI refugees.  When the forum opened for questions a hand rose with the claim that the international community must try harder: Among the participants was a gay Iraqi who had recently arrived to the United States as a refugee.

He spoke firmly before an audience of powerful representatives, “I experienced insult and humiliation when I went to ask for help.” After explaining he was initially told to return to a country that criminalizes homosexuality to “cancel his visa” before he can access international protection, he went on to describe how he had to endure uncomfortable and unacceptable questioning about his sexual life when going through the status determination proceedings. He was able to navigate the tangled processes to become resettled in the United States with the legal assistance of IRAP, a legal aid organization like Asylum Access, which provides services in Jordan. “If it wasn’t for their legal assistance, I don’t know here I would be today,” he added. He stated firmly that he was there to ask for a more welcoming environment, for fair procedures, and for the international community to provide refugees with more prompt and real solutions to their plight. And he is right – refugees’ plight should end when they cross that border.

As this quarter closes, I encourage our supporters to step in the shoes of our clients for a minute. After fleeing persecution, war, loss of property and family members. Shouldn’t your troubles end there? Shouldn’t you have the right to move on, rebuild your life, put your children in school and enjoy the right to work?

The answer is yes, it is the way it should be. Our team in Asylum Access works every day with limited resources, working far from home and through countless obstacles to make it happen one client at a time. A belief in justice is what fuels our commitment every day.

In gratitude and with best regards,


PS. There are already some immediate outcomes from the amazing LGBTI refugee Convening organized by Human Rights First. Asylum Access joined 17 other NGOs in a statement to Secretary of State Clinton urging better protection for those who –like this brave Iraqi­– flee persecution for their sexuality.

Published May 2011