Our Model

IRAP’s innovative model of mobilizing legal resources to advocate for refugees and displaced people saves lives, assures safe passage to destination countries, and shapes thought and practice in the United States and around the globe to ensure fair and humane treatment of these vulnerable individuals.

IRAP’s approach is grounded in three distinct but interrelated strategies: 

1. IRAP has created a “virtual public interest law firm”—a firm that is not impeded by geographic boundaries and uses technological solutions to deliver free high-quality representation to people living in, and fleeing from, war, persecution, and political upheaval around the world. We have trained an army of volunteers—1,200 students from 29 law schools in the United States and Canada and pro bono attorneys from over 120 international law firms and multinational corporations—to assist thousands of refugees and displaced people on urgent registration, protection, and resettlement cases.

2. Through impact litigation and systemic advocacy, IRAP is bringing legal challenges to refugee rights violations in the courts, creating solutions to overcoming the legal and bureaucratic impediments in the resettlement process, and developing an enforceable system of legal and procedural rights for refugees and displaced persons worldwide. Working directly with our clients as they navigate the labyrinthine processes, IRAP is often able to identify obstacles of which other institutional players are unaware. Our unique model utilizes lessons learned in individual casework to advocate for systemic changes that benefit broader refugee populations.

3. Finally, a crucial prong of IRAP’s approach is to train the next generation of international human rights advocates. These advocates are essential to ensuring fairness, decency, and adherence to the rule of law throughout the refugee resettlement process.

The Evolution of IRAP

In 2008, five students founded IRAP as an extracurricular organization at Yale Law School: one was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; another was a journalist who had reported from Iraq; three others had worked with refugees. Shortly after they launched IRAP, law student counterparts at New York University and U.C. Berkeley founded IRAP chapters. The law students realized the importance of engaging pro bono attorneys to provide direct legal representation to refugees overseas who had never before had access to counsel.

In 2010, IRAP joined the Urban Justice Center, a public interest organization that is home to twelve New York-based legal service and systemic advocacy projects.

Since that time, IRAP has built an in-house staff based in New York and established offices in Jordan and Lebanon. Our network of legal representatives has also grown substantially: today, there are 29 IRAP chapters at law schools in the United States and Canada, supported in their work by over 120 international law firms and multinational corporations that provide pro bono assistance.

IRAP began by serving Iraqi refugees because of the clear obligations of Western countries, and the United States in particular, to provide relief to those who were unintended victims of the Iraq War. Since our inception, IRAP has expanded to assist refugees from over 50 countries of origin. In 2015, IRAP rebranded as the International Refugee Assistance Project to more accurately reflect the life-saving work we perform on behalf of vulnerable refugees around the world.

In 2017, IRAP added a litigation team to its New York staff to better respond to refugee and immigrants rights violations in the United States.

Student & Attorney Network

What began at a single law school has since grown into a legal movement: our unique model utilizes students and attorneys who volunteer from around the world to provide a range of legal services to refugees and pursue systemic advocacy. Our 29 law school chapters and over 120 partner law firms and multinational corporations are trained and organized by IRAP staff to aid refugees through legal clinics, research, advocacy, and individual representation. The model ensures high-quality legal assistance, engages top-tier firms and law schools in refugee advocacy, and trains the next generation of lawyers to become international human rights advocates.

In the Field

IRAP’s field offices in Amman, Jordan and Beirut, Lebanon are an essential part of IRAP’s holistic and international strategy. Jordan and Lebanon host a vast number of refugees from Syria and Iraq, and having a team of lawyers and caseworkers on the ground allows us, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international governmental organizations (IGOs), and governmental partners, to swiftly identify refugees in dire need of assistance and help them with resettlement to a safe, third country.

Our field staff in Amman and Beirut are responsible for the intake and screening processes of prospective clients, representation of clients before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), emergency response programming, and the expansion of IRAP’s geographical scope to work with the most at-risk refugee populations. Our overseas teams have also been on the frontline of identifying and expanding alternative and complementary pathways for resettlement across the globe.

Having built solid reputations among the local refugee communities, our field offices reach even the most vulnerable populations and individuals who may otherwise be hesitant to reveal themselves to an aid agency.

IRAP’s field offices also play a crucial role in relationship-building with partner organizations including UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and others in the humanitarian protection space. Our field teams’ relationships with other NGOs on the ground create a referral network, so that even in situations in which IRAP is unable to provide legal assistance, we can facilitate contact with social workers, domestic legal counsel, protection officers, and mental health professionals, as well as access to housing and medical care.

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