The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) is a U.S.-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing legal assistance to Iraqi refugees in life and death situations. To date, IRAP has helped resettle more than 1,000 Iraqis identified by the United Nations and numerous other organizations as living in “extremely urgent situations.”
Currently, around 2.5 million Iraqis remain displaced because of violence. Of these, an estimated 1.5 million are internally displaced inside Iraq, and one million are stuck in limbo in neighboring countries including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Iraqis in these countries have no rights- they may be deported at any time, it is illegal for them to work, and there is almost no access to health care. Meanwhile, many of the refugees are in dire humanitarian situations for which they cannot receive any assistance.
IRAP works with the U.N. as well as NGOs and community leaders on the ground to identify Iraqi refugees for whom resettlement to a safe third country is a matter of life or death. Clientele include survivors of torture, single women at risk, children with medical emergencies, religious minorities and families with inter-religious marriages, and Iraqis who are at risk because of their work for the U.S. military or a U.S. company.
For Iraqis who cannot return to Iraq, yet cannot remain legally in their countries of first asylum, resettlement to a safe third country is the only option. Yet the system that identifies and screens refugees for resettlement is often impossibly opaque and difficult to navigate. Refugees must acquiesce to a minimum of 12 hours of interviews, submit pages and pages of documents over the course of up to two or three years. At the end of this process, a decision is made that may literally affect whether the refugee applicant lives or dies – yet traditionally, refugees receive no assistance during the resettlement process to help them make the best case possible, or even to understand what is going on.
IRAP partners with 20 law schools and more than 25 of the world’s major law firms to provide Iraqi refugees in urgent situations seeking resettlement with the free legal help they need to be able to navigate the refugee processing system successfully. It was founded as an all-volunteer student organization at Yale Law School in the Fall of 2008, and became an independent organization in September of 2010. In its first year as national organization, IRAP leveraged a total budget of $126,000 to provide more than $3.5 million in pro bono legal services, allowing the organization to serve hundreds of Iraqi families.
In the coming year, IRAP hopes to double the number of families it serves and increase its staffing on the ground in the Middle East in order to better reach refugees traditionally cut off from social services, such as women who are victims of trafficking or LGBT Iraqis.
To learn more about IRAP and support IRAP’s work, please visit www.refugeerights.org to make a donation.