Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA) (Cairo, Egypt)

I have spent the last eight weeks working as a legal advisor at Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA), in Cairo. AMERA is a non-governmental organization that provides, namely, legal services to refugees seeking asylum in Egypt. The variety of services provided by AMERA is wide, and ranges from simple reviewing and editing of appeal letters written by the refugees themselves, to full legal representation, to psychosocial services, such as individual and group therapy, to offering classes on refugee law and the process of refugee status determination in Egypt to the refugee community.

My time at AMERA began with an intensive two week training period, during which the refugee status determination procedure in Egypt was taught to all the new interns, about seven of us in total. Other topics covered during this training period included issues regarding refugees generally, and being a refugee in Egypt specifically. Various speakers presented talks on a variety of issues, which included interviewing techniques and testimony taking, social and medical services, and security and protection in Egypt.

My first tasks consisted of what are referred to as reviews. When a refugee approaches the office for legal aid, they are first required to attend a class that teaches them about the refugee status determination procedure; which laws and conventions are used to make this determination; why an application may be rejected; and what they must do in order to appeal a rejection of their application. In the class, they are also taught how to write an appeal letter and what kind of information it should include. At the end of the class, they are given an appointment to meet with a legal advisor who will review the letter that they have written.

This appointment is what is referred to as a review. During this meeting, the legal advisor will ascertain further information regarding the refugee's particular case, and decide whether it is a case that AMERA can provide full representation for. If it is not, the legal advisor edits the letter and adds to it as appropriate, after discussing with the refugee. The client is then given the letter to submit to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

If the client is deemed to require full representation, a testimony of the events that led them to flee their country of origin is then prepared. This may require meeting with the client up to three or four times, for a few hours each time. A full legal argument is then prepared, explaining how the refugee meets the criteria as set out by the 1951 Convention, and why the UNHCR should grant the applicant refugee status.

In addition to reviews and writing legal arguments, I am also working on a group submission that is being prepared for Ethiopian women who appear to be systematically rejected by the UNHCR. These woman's claims were all very similar, and very strong, yet they were all nonetheless denied refugee status. After many meetings with such clients, we noticed that there were some procedural errors that were systematically being made at these women's interviews with the UNHCR. These errors made the whole process unfair and undermined the very mandate of the UNHCR, which is to provide protection to refugees. For this reason, we are preparing a group submission, so that the UNHCR may be made aware of its errors, and correct them.

With only two weeks left in my internship, I am distinctly aware of how much, yet how little, I have learned. The experience so far has been educational and enlightening, yet at the same time, I know that it was but a mere glimpse into the field of refugee law. For the time being, my time at AMERA will satiate my desire to learn about, and work in, the field of refugee law.