International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)
The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) is a nationwide organization of law students and legal practitioners who provide assistance to refugees throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region who are navigating the resettlement process, and advocate on their behalf for improvements in the national and international refugee processing systems.
Organizationally, IRAP is structured as “chapters” at law schools around the country (the number of chapters continues to increase every year). Traditionally, IRAP chapters perform clientwork and policy work.
The Columbia Chapter
CLS students have the opportunity to get involved with several IRAP opportunities.
Most importantly, we oversee two pro bono projects: (1) casework, and (2) intakes. The CLS chapter currently has about fifteen open cases and over sixty active student and attorney volunteers. Our client-base is primarily Iraqi and Afghani individuals who worked for the U.S. military or are facing persecution for other reasons (sexual orientation, religion, etc.) and their immediate families. Our chapter has clients located in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey, and Jordan, and helps settle clients through a variety of resettlement processes, including U.S. and UNHCR processes. CLS students have also conducted several intakes for IRAP National through the intake program that began in 2016.
CLS students can also participate in an IRAP caravan to Jordan or Lebanon over spring break. The caravan involves learning more about the refugee resettlement process and conducting client intakes with vulnerable refugees referred to IRAP by partner NGOs.
Finally, the CLS chapter undertakes various policy projects throughout the year, depending on current events and needs.
Please continue reading to learn more about these opportunities.
Our Pro Bono Projects
We have an “established placement” with SJI, meaning that the process is streamlined for students to submit their pro bono hours to SJI and have them approved by IRAP National.
Through our pro bono projects, students can (1) become caseworkers and work in-depth with a client on his/her resettlement case, and (2) participate in IRAP’s intake process and help IRAP National with the client intake process.
Casework involves working in teams of 3 CLS students and at least one supervising attorney from a New York firm. IRAP caseworkers help their client through the resettlement process, from beginning to end. While the work varies based on each client's situation, it typically includes performing interviews via telephone or video conference, assisting clients in preparing paperwork, affidavits and supporting evidence for their resettlement applications, preparing administrative or judicial appeals, performing legal and factual research, and assisting clients in preparing for interviews before UN or US immigration officials.
What is the time commitment? Working with IRAP is a great learning experience that can be very fulfilling and rewarding, but it is also a serious commitment that requires time and energy. Casework generally involves a multi-year commitment, and teams are assigned to their cases until they are closed. The time commitment varies based on individual clients' circumstances and where they are in the resettlement process. The process often takes a number of years, so IRAP volunteers must be committed to staying with their case for all three years of law school, if necessary. IRAP volunteers should also be aware that they will have little control of the timing of their client's application, so they may need to do some IRAP-related work during finals or other busy periods. However, the work required is largely long-term, and deadlines are rarely tight. As a result, the workload is very manageable.
Students who participate in intakes work with IRAP National to help conduct intake interviews and screen potential clients. This opportunity allows student volunteers to interact with several potential clients, gain insight into different types of legal issues, and work independently.
What is the time commitment? The time commitment varies based on the number of active intakes, but it averages to about 5 hours per week throughout the school year.
The CLS IRAP chapter typically accepts applications only in the fall.
What skills do I need to have? Previous knowledge of the refugee resettlement process is NOT required. While we would love to have volunteers who speak Arabic and/or have worked with refugees in the past, the only requirement that we have is that volunteers be communicative and committed to clients' well-being.
All volunteers whose applications are accepted must attend a training session at CLS or NYU in order to be staffed on a case. The dates for the annual trainings are released with the application each year.
For interested 1Ls, look for IRAP representatives at the block party in September! Otherwise, lookout for the email from SIRR announcing the application in September. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to email the IRAP Co-Chairs, Amanda Chuzi ([email protected]) and Sarah Maciel ([email protected]).
IRAP National has a training event for NYC area law schools. The CLS IRAP chapter also hosts training events for its participants. Training is mandatory for all participants.
IRAP has a National Conference each year in Washington, DC, or NYC where members from all of the chapters gather to share information about the work they have done, hear speakers from various government agencies, NGOs and international organizations, and meet with government officials regarding current refugee resettlement issues.
Policy work involves a variety of outreach-oriented tasks towards advocating for improvements in refugee policy at both the U.S. and international levels. Please contact the IRAP coordinators for more details if you are interested.
Spring Break Caravan
Each spring break, 5-7 CLS students travel to Amman, Jordan (or Beirut, Lebanon) where they provide direct legal assistance to Iraqi and Syrian refugees with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). Students learn how to interview victims of torture and trauma and conduct client intakes with vulnerable refugees referred to IRAP by partner NGOs, as well as meetings with existing Columbia clients. Students also participate in outreach meetings with local NGOs to learn more about the situation facing refugees on the ground in the Middle East.
For More Info...
For more information about getting involved in the CLS IRAP chapter, please contact the IRAP co-chairs, Amanda Chuzi ([email protected]) and Sarah Maciel ([email protected]).
For further information about IRAP generally, see the national organization’s website at: http://www.refugeerights.org/. Also, check out this segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QplQL5eAxlY
Please contact the IRAP co-chairs, Amanda Chuzi ([email protected]) and Sarah Maciel ([email protected]), if you would like to support our work and caravan!