People We Serve

IRAP is the legal advocacy organization for refugees and displaced people in need of a safe place to call home. We work with our clients to identify and navigate pathways to safety through free direct representation, policy advocacy, and litigation. Since our establishment, we have provided legal assistance to more than 24,000 refugees, and have resettled more than 4,000 individuals from conflict zones to safe new countries. IRAP provides pro bono legal representation, legal advice, and expert referrals to refugees all over the world.

IRAP’s goal is to ensure that available services and legal protections go to those who are most in need. Utilizing our grassroots networks amongst particularly difficult-to-access populations, we work to identify and empower many of the world’s most at-risk refugees, including LGBTI individuals, religious minorities subject to targeted violence, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, children with medical emergencies for whom local treatment is not available, and interpreters being hunted down by ISIS, the Taliban, and other local militias in retaliation for their work with the United States and NATO.

Female Survivors of Sexual or Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)

Female refugees are uniquely susceptible to sexual and physical abuse, trafficking, and sexual slavery in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In 2013, we began adapting our successful LGBTI program framework to serve the needs of women at risk in Iraq. Today, we provide a range of services to Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi, Somali, and Syrian women at risk, including legal representation, emergency protection, extraction from violent situations, and advocacy to make the resettlement process accessible to women who have been trafficked and to those who have fled abusive situations with children and are struggling to obtain legal custody. We use grassroots outreach among refugee populations to find, screen, and take on the most vulnerable women as clients; connect women to health, mental health, housing, and psychosocial services; and provide access to local attorneys for custody and divorce matters.

U.S.-Affiliated Iraqi and Afghan Wartime Allies

IRAP strives to ensure that the Iraqis and Afghans who are persecuted for their assistance to the United States are not forgotten. Congress recognized that the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who provided valuable support to the U.S. Government in those countries would face a backlash for their American affiliation and created Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs for persecuted allies to seek refuge in the United States. IRAP is the foremost expert in SIV casework, legislation, litigation, and administrative reforms.

IRAP has advocated for, and won, a number of legislative extensions and reforms to the Afghan SIV program, including groundbreaking access to counsel and due process provisions, and, crucially, a dramatic increase in the number of visas issued and the speed with which visas are processed. IRAP’s work to advocate for nine pieces of legislation have provided a legal pathway to safety to nearly 50,000 Afghan wartime partners and more than 16,000 Iraqi wartime partners.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Refugees

LGBTI individuals throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have long been persecuted by militias, religious extremists, and, sadly, their own families and communities. They are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to displacement, exclusion from laws that might afford protection, and a lack of recognized international human rights safeguards.

IRAP’s work with LGBTI refugees has increased dramatically since we took our first LGBTI case in 2009; we are now one of very few organizations providing direct legal assistance to LGBTI refugee populations in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. Our LGBTI program began when we were able to resettle three gay Iraqi refugees living in Jordan and Syria to a safe country in record time. Those cases demonstrated that IRAP’s approach to resettlement could be effective in aiding populations persecuted for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Since that time, we have provided legal advice to more than 500 LGBTI refugees around the world.

IRAP’s advocacy has led to positive outcomes for individual refugees and to systemic policy advances, including: the creation of a special expedite category for LGBTI refugees seeking admission to the United States; documentation that led the Netherlands to change its asylum policy to recognize LGBTI Iraqis as a uniquely vulnerable population; and the establishment of the first precedent for an in-country referral by the U.S. Embassy in Iraq of a transgender man who would not otherwise have qualified for processing. This advance created an in-country processing system for LGBTI refugees in Iraq that was later codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual, the Department of State’s comprehensive guidance document, as a life-saving mechanism available to any U.S. Embassy in the world.

We advocate for access to counsel for LGBTI refugees seeking resettlement to the United States, and for broader use of in-country processing authority for internally displaced LGBTI individuals.

Children with Medical Emergencies

Nearly all refugees lack access to quality medical care, but those with chronic diseases or complex conditions are most at risk of death. Juvenile health outcomes are particularly poor, in part because many young people have lacked health care for the majority of their lives, and because the use of chemical weapons in conflicts has led to a high rate of juvenile cancers.

For many children, the only hope for treatment is resettlement or to be granted humanitarian parole to temporarily visit a developed country to receive free medical treatment for worsening or chronic conditions. IRAP works with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the ground to identify children with such needs and ensure that their requests for entry are expedited.

Persecuted Religious Minorities

Across the globe, religious minorities have long histories of being persecuted. The conflicts and growing religious extremism in the Middle East have rendered many religious minorities more susceptible to abuse than at any time in recent history. In Syria and Iraq, IRAP has worked with hundreds of vulnerable individuals who are targeted because of their beliefs, including members of the Assyrian Christian, Chaldean, Sabean-Mandean, and Yazidi faiths.

Many of these cases receive expedited treatment, enabling these refugees to build new lives in the United States and several European countries. IRAP is currently leading a lawsuit challenging the mass denial of U.S. refugee resettlement to Iranian religious minorities in the Lautenberg-Specter program.

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