An interview with our new Global Legal Services Associate Director.
This July, Asylum Access welcomed Amalia Greenberg Delgado to our global leadership team in San Francisco. A long-time refugee rights advocate, Amalia brings with her years of experience working in immigrant and refugee rights representation and advocacy in Egypt, Turkey, Ecuador and the USA.
1. First, I’d like to extend a warm welcome on behalf of the Asylum Access team. We’re really excited to have you on board as our Global Legal Services Associate Director. Can you speak about what interested you about Asylum Access and this role?
Thank you so much to everyone at Asylum Access who has welcomed me so warmly onto its staff. It is so good to be here. As a young immigrant from Venezuela and then again where I grew up in the Virgin Islands, I’ve been in awe of the forced migrations of other people – refugees and immigrants – and the challenges they face to learn another language, find work, a home, safety.
After college, I traveled to Egypt to work with immigrant populations there. At the time, I was not quite sure what I would find as refugees’ most immediate needs and how I could be of help. AMERA Egypt was in its first couple years of initiation, and they put me right to work advising refugees in the refugee status determination process before the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. My first client taught me so much about the resilience of refugee people in spite of their insurmountable struggles. I also quickly learned how basic legal information and assistance could provide the tools to chisel away at many of the barriers that stood in their ways. These lessons were confirmed in Turkey through my work in the early stages of the refugee legal aid project at Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly and in founding the Jesuit Refugee Service’s Quito, Ecuador office.
It was invigorating to know a few hours of legal aid could last a lifetime for my client – giving her a path to acquiring refugee status, a right to work, a chance to put her kids in school and access health services, and other benefits. I was hooked – the same way many other refugee rights advocates have been – to go beyond providing basic humanitarian aid by facilitating tools and information for refugees to make a decent life on their own. This role gives me a unique opportunity to lead our dynamic legal services work to ensure that the rights of refugees everywhere are realized.
2. You’ve just joined our global leadership team in San Francisco, but you have been involved with Asylum Access from the very beginning. Can you speak about how that journey was like? How does it feel to join Asylum Access as staff this year?
I am very honored to join the esteemed staff at Asylum Access in my new capacity. I’ve been part of the board since Asylum Access’s inception over 8 years ago! I feel like I have grown with the organization and I am so proud of the work of our overseas staff and volunteers as well as our staff at Headquarters.
I often feel that my role in the creation of Asylum Access came about because I was at the right place at the right time. While I was in Turkey in 2005, two prominent refugee advocates, Barbara Harrell-Bond and Michael Kagan, visited the refugee legal aid project now part of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly to consult and train our refugee lawyers and staff. In conversation with Barbara and Mike, we identified a need to open overseas refugee legal aid offices similar to that of AMERA in Egypt or the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly. We identified a need to assist refugees without legal status and refugees who were unable to access the rights protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention.
To accomplish this, we established a US-based office that could fundraise and recruit volunteer advocates to develop overseas refugee legal aid offices. A few transnational phone conversations later and we had gathered refugee lawyers, professors and advocates to spearhead what is now Asylum Access. In 2006, we identified Ecuador as the launching point for Asylum Access, where I had previously worked with refugees. I returned to Ecuador in 2007 to launch our first Asylum Access office.
It has been an amazing journey to see the growth of Asylum Access as a board member. I look forward to joining the leadership staff and contributing to our planned expansion these next few years.
3. Your role as Global Legal Services Associate Director was created with the departure of our Overseas Operations Director Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter, and the restructuring that followed. Can you tell us a bit about this change?
I first met Michelle during my time as Launch Director in Ecuador and since then, I have been wow-ed by her ability to wear the very many hats Asylum Access needed in its development – particularly her role as our Ecuador Director, and later as Overseas Operations Director. As the organization continues to grow, we aim to have leadership positions that are specialized in various general areas of work and management of the organization, including policy advocacy, legal services, and operational management. With these positions, we can deepen our focus on providing our overseas staff and volunteers with improved technical assistance to better serve the refugee community, while gathering data and stories to garner support and promote changes in global refugee policies.
4. What are you most excited about in the year ahead?
I look forward to working closely with our overseas staff and volunteers, and identifying mechanisms to support the amazing work that they do. It is an exciting moment to join our team as we look to expand to new offices in the coming years. In particular, I will support and create opportunities to ensure that our clients and other refugee community members drive reform and implementation of laws and policies that impact their lives.
Thank you Amalia and welcome to Asylum Access!
Learn more about Amalia Greenberg Delgado’s work in immigrant and refugee rights here.