2019 Global Citizenship Review
Famine refugees in a camp

Patterns of migration

Projects in Sweden, Japan and the US help migrants, refugees and asylum seekers attempting to navigate difficult processes in unfamiliar surroundings

Seeking justice for refugees in Sweden who were tortured in Syria

Stockholm partner Henrik Wireklint and associates Filippa Exelin and Embla Hellgren supported Civil Rights Defenders and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in representing a group of nine refugees who fled to Sweden from Syria after being tortured and experiencing other human rights violations. 

The case invokes the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows national courts to prosecute individuals for serious crimes under international law, such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and torture, even if they are not otherwise subject to that country’s jurisdiction. The members of the group have filed a police report with the Swedish authorities detailing their abuse in the hope that an international arrest warrant for individuals within the Syrian security forces will be issued. This action will also limit freedom of movement for those responsible. 

At this time, the report has been filed and the police are investigating. If an international arrest warrant is issued, it will bring some justice for these individuals and censure for the perpetrators.

Advice to immigrants seeking release from detention in the US

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) helps immigrants seeking release from detention while their cases are ongoing. Many have been in the US for a long time and have established ties to the community, but have been detained indefinitely, with limited access to legal or other resources. Full-time and volunteer lawyers and other advocates in four SPLC offices near remote detention centers work to identify and support opportunities for release on humanitarian, hardship, medical or other grounds. 

Visiting a center for one week at a time, 16 of our lawyers have so far taken part in the program. Ting-Ting Kao, counsel in our Washington, DC office, was one of the first volunteers and found the experience eye-opening. “I met a family who traveled hours to see their mother in detention but who were turned away because they did not realize they needed to make an appointment ahead of time. The family wrote a letter to their mother at the SPLC office, but the detention facility would not permit us to give the client the letter or even reading glasses the family brought for the client. 

I did not appreciate before how dehumanizing the detention process and facilities could  be. But the time that lawyers, interpreters and other volunteers provide to this program is incredibly important and rewarding. Immigration proceedings can be extremely complicated and difficult to navigate, especially for those in detention. The SPLC’s SIFI program helps secure the release of clients from detention so they can be with their families.”

In another US program, conducted by family reunification nonprofit Project Corazon in partnership with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), seven of our lawyers represented by teleconference male detainees traveling with children undergoing credible fear interviews. Following training, each lawyer was assigned cases requiring initial preparation for the telephonic hearing. During the hearing, our lawyers had the opportunity to present follow-up questions and deliver a closing argument on behalf of the detainee establishing why he had credible fear of returning to his home country that may entitle him and his children to asylum in the US.

Helping two asylum seekers beat the odds in Japan

In Japan, the need for legal representation is acute—less than 1 percent of refugees without legal representation are granted asylum. Tokyo partner Ayako Kawano and 11 associates and legal assistants are supporting the Japan Association for Refugees on two cases.

In one case, we are assisting a bisexual man arrested because of his sexual orientation who fled Tanzania to avoid harsh treatment, a lengthy jail sentence and possibly death. The other case is a Democratic Republic of the Congo customs officer who, with his family, was attacked by tribal militia forces for preventing the transport of illegal weapons. The fate of his wife and child remains unknown. Both clients managed to flee to Japan, where they are currently seeking asylum with our help.

Other highlights of our work on behalf of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

An analysis of Kenya’s 2006 Refugees Act and its application for the Public International Law & Policy Group

  • Kaya Proudian, partner, Singapore

A report on the issue of statelessness and denaturalization in the US for the Open Society Foundations

  • Thomas MacWright, partner, New York

Comments on behalf of Oxfam America regarding the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security’s new rules restricting asylum eligibility for people crossing the southern US border

  • Rachel Feldman, partner, Los Angeles

An analysis of laws recognizing and supporting asylum seekers and refugees in Sweden and Canada for the nonprofit organization France terre d’asile

  • Henrik Wireklint, partner, Stockholm

Research on second-generation status-less persons in seven jurisdictions for The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants

  • Timo Airisto, partner, Helsinki
  • Kim Havlin, partner, New York
  • Gareth Hodder, partner, Johannesburg
  • Mark Powell, partner, Brussels
  • Rikard Stenberg, partner, Stockholm
  • Ian Wallace, partner, London 
Image: // Famine refugees in a camp. Afar, Ethiopia 
© John Stanmeyer / NatGeo


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