There are over 65 million displaced people and more than 22 million refugees worldwide – more than at any time in modern recorded history. As the numbers of displaced survivors of persecution, war and conflict rises each year, many governments have redoubled their efforts to keep refugees out. Those nations who welcome refugees often find that their capacity to protect them is limited. Most refugees live for years – even decades – on the margins of foreign cities or in refugee camps in the countries where they’ve fled in legal limbo.
HIAS’ legal and protection programs are dedicated to ensuring that refugees, whether in camp or urban settings, know their rights, can access protective services and navigate the often- complicated legal systems that lead to permanent status and security. With a focus on refugee community empowerment, HIAS legal services involve public education, advice, individual representation and the pursuit of strategic litigation to bring about changes in legal practice or policy to advance refugee protection. We are particularly focused on ensuring that the most vulnerable – including children, survivors of torture or sexual and gender-based violence, refugees with disabilities, and LGBTI refugees – can secure intensive legal aid.
HIAS’ legal protection work also includes, in rare cases, referrals of particularly at-risk refugees to safe countries where they can be resettled. While resettlement offers a small number of refugees safety in a new country, many countries including the United States are currently reducing the size and scope of their resettlement programs. Therefore, effective legal aid and protection services in the host country where refugees first flee to are even more important.
HIAS also engages in wide-ranging coordination and capacity-building activities to advance refugee protection at the policy level both in the United States and in countries where we have legal protection programming such as Kenya, Israel, Greece and Costa Rica.
In addition to HIAS’ legal protection work in countries around the world, HIAS provides free legal representation for vulnerable immigrants seeking asylum and other humanitarian protection in the United States. In New York and Silver Spring, Maryland, HIAS lawyers have on average more than a decade of experience representing clients in complex asylum and immigration proceedings. An extensive network of pro bono lawyers supports HIAS’ work to provide legal representation and community volunteers are trained to serve as navigators to help clients access social services, educational and employment opportunities.