AMERA International, formerly AMERA UK, or Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance was founded as a UK Charity in January 2003 (Charity No. 1098788) to provide pro bono legal aid for refugees in countries where such services are non-existent or limited and where legal representation might assist them in actualizing their rights. Prior to this, AMERA Egypt, had been established and, before its closure in 2014 went on to become the foremost refugee legal aid organization in Egypt. Its work continues through the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights (EFRR) and St Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS).
AMERA International has also been proactive in supporting the development of legal services for refugees in Morocco through support to Droit et Justice
- support the provision of legal advice on matters relating to asylum determination, resettlement, family reunification, and the enjoyment of fundamental rights
- educate members of the legal profession in matters relating to the law, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, International Human Rights Law, the Geneva Convention and other public law conventions affecting refugees.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, as well as the 1969 Organisation of African Unity, prohibit states from returning refugees to a place where their lives could be threatened (the principle of “non-refoulement“) on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
Asylum seekers need to receive guidance and have access to legal aid at all stages of asylum procedures. Refugees are very seldom able to pay for legal assistance. Many asylum seekers remain unrepresented because there are too few pro bono lawyers and legal volunteers around the world. Living without documents and without UNHCR or government protection places them at risk of detention, refoulement and other infringements of their basic human rights.
Legal aid – especially in status determination – is the right of all refugees. That right has too often been neglected or denied. Legal assistance is essential in order to help asylum seekers win recognition as refugees. The post 9/11 world is one of increasing restrictions on asylum, narrowing immigration policies and growing sentiments of xenophobia and suspicion, not to mention the government measures enacted and implemented today in the name of enhanced security. The need for pro bono representation in the global the South, is more urgent than ever.
A fair refugee status determination (RSD) is essential to identify those who should benefit from the conventions covering specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa and to ensure that governments comply with their obligations. Without just and efficient RSD processes, states can – and do – return refugees to places where they face persecution, detention and even death.
Today, Refugee Status Determinaton (RSD) is being increasingly decided on an individual basis, and claims are adjudicated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) rather than by governments. Many of the major countries hosting refugees are among those who have not ratified the 1951 Convention, and even where they have, UNHCR has frequently assumed the responsibility for status adjudication.
AMERA UK was set up as a charity in 2003 following many years of research in Africa and the Mediterranean region by its founding members who witnessed at first hand the often appalling conditions in which most refugees live, and the failure of states to protect them.
With the exception of some provision for legal aid in South Africa after 1993, the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University (1997), and the Refugee Consortium in Kenya (1998) were the first sources of legal aid for refugees in the global south. The Refugee Law Project has since expanded greatly, having offices adjacent to camps as well as in Kampala.
In Cairo, The Refugee Legal Aid Project began in 2000. AMERA Egypt became the exemplary refugee legal aid organization in Cairo and was able to work closely with the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Department at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Since being closed down in 2013, the provision of legal assistance work that used to be done at AMERA Egypt is now done at the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights and at StARS, St. Andrews Church.
Born out of the experience of these years of work in Uganda, Kenya and Egypt, AMERA-UK was set up to support and to stimulate the development of further refugee legal aid projects throughout Africa and the Middle East.
AMERA’s role has always been to nurture and coordinate emerging projects, ensuring high standards of pro bono legal representation and endeavouring to raise money for the growing network of pro bono refugee legal aid offices. As such it has continued to be at the heart of many of the region’s most effective organisations and NGOs in this field.
The ‘Nairobi Code’, an ethical code for providers of legal aid for refugees was devised by a group of legal aid NGOs in 2007 and has now been adopted by legal aid organizations and UNHCR in many parts of the world