December 2, 2010

High Honors for BFC's Human Rights Clinic

Yesterday may have been a cold and stormy winter day, but our Human Rights Clinic’s staff got all warm and fuzzy as they received the Advocate for Justice Award from The Olender Foundation’s 25th Annual Awards—held in a special ceremony at the Reagan Building in downtown DC.

Human Rights Clinic co-founder Dr. Katalin Roth and pro bono human rights attorney Laura Parcher were on hand to receive the award, which comes along with a $20,000 grant to Bread for the City. The Advocate for Justice Award is bestowed each year upon individuals and organizations that make a significant impact in the fight to improve basic human rights.

That’s certainly an apt description for our Human Rights Clinic.

Launched in May 2009, BFC’s Human Rights Clinic was designed to offer a safe, specialized space, two evenings per month, for refugees who have fled torture and persecution in their homelands to undergo the medical examination process that is often needed to obtain asylum—a special legal status that enables refugees to become permanent legal residents, bring their immediate families to the U.S., and eventually become citizens.

“When doctors do an evaluation, the person seeking asylum has a much better chance of getting asylum,” says Dr. Roth. “It’s personally fulfilling to be able to help someone so directly.”

Last year approximately 54 refugee patients had undergone the examination process through BFC’s Human Rights Clinic and obtained the key documentation necessary to help bolster their asylum case. Of those, 11 have already been granted permanent asylum status. The remaining cases are currently pending in an asylum legal process that can take upwards of 18 months.

Each of those cases comes with a story to tell – often heartbreaking and inspiring. One such story is that of “F”, a refugee from Cote d’Ivoire, who at nine-years-old was delivered by her mother—kicking and screaming—to a ceremonial hall where she was held down and circumcised with a dirty knife in a communal ceremony where 20 other girls were also mutilated. She said, “I felt at that moment that I had no mother.” After fleeing her country some years later, she sought asylum here with her own daughter, hoping to find a better life for both of them.

Stories like “F” are sadly all too common. A person endures horrific circumstances in a country grappling with unrest, and then flees for their life to the United States. Our medical clinic, coupled with the pro bono legal support they receive, provides their best hope for protection and a fresh start. (See this story at People’s District for the story of Htar, another refugee who now receives help from Bread for the City and even presented the award to Dr. Randi and Dr. Roth.)

On the importance of BFC’s Human Rights Clinic, Dr. Roth reflects: “We cannot help everyone, but we can make a difference.” One life at a time, we’re helping people remove the shackles of the past so that they may rise to a much brighter future.

To learn more about BFC’s Human Rights Clinic and the work of Dr. Roth, please refer to her recently published article “Giving Refuge: Reflections on Working with Asylum Seekers”.

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