AMERA International (formerly AMERA UK / Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance) was founded as a UK Charity in January 2003 (Charity No. 1098788) to support and 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. AMERA was established 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.
AMERA International’s founders had established the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University in Uganda (1997), and the Refugee Consortium in Kenya (1998), as some of the first sources of legal aid for refugees in the global south. In Cairo, the Refugee Legal Aid Project began in 2000. AMERA Egypt became the exemplary refugee legal aid organisation in Cairo. After AMERA Egypt was closed down at the end of 2013/early 2014, its legal assistance work in Egypt has continued through the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights and St. Andrews Refugee Services (StARS).
Born out of the experience of these years of work in Uganda, Kenya and Egypt, AMERA International was set up to support and to stimulate the development of further refugee legal aid projects throughout Africa and the Middle East. For example, AMERA was proactive in supporting the development of legal services for refugees in Morocco through support to Droit et Justice. AMERA’s interest and work has now expanded to cover refugee legal aid across the global south.
AMERA’s role has always been to nurture and coordinate emerging projects, ensuring high standards of pro bono legal representation and endeavouring to raise resources and capacity of the growing network of pro bono refugee legal aid offices. It has continued to be at the heart of many of some of the most effective organisations and NGOs in this field.
AMERA International was founded by the extraordinary Dr. Barbara Harrell-Bond. If you want to find out more about Barbara, her remarkable approach to her work and her achievements, you can watch a documentary about her life here. A Life Not Ordinary, was produced by Katarzyna Grabska, a long-time friend and colleague of Barbara, and was made in collaboration with AMERA International. It explores Barbara’s pioneering achievements as an academic, activist and advocate of refugee rights.
- Connect individuals, organizations and experts on legal issues relating to asylum determination, durable solutions, family reunification, and other matters relating to the enjoyment of fundamental rights of people who are forcibly displaced.
- Advance knowledge and practice among lawyers and paralegals, through information sharing, networks, and training, in matters relating to forced migration and law affecting refugees in the Global South.
- Improve access to asylum processes and outcomes for refugees: developing structures among organizations to provide legal representation, therapeutic (psychosocial) case management, and specialised mental health interventions to support legal processes.
- Conduct advocacy and supporting policy development relating to legal structures for refugees.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (in addition to regional refugee conventions) 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 free of charge lawyers and legal volunteers around the world. Living without legal status and without UNHCR or government protection places people at risk of detention, refoulement and other infringements of their basic human rights.
Across the world, there are 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 free of charge high quality legal aid for refugees is more urgent than ever.
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 to ensure asylum seekers have the information, and where necessary the representation, to present their cases and win recognition as refugees. The need for legal assistance is equally vital in situations where UNHCR conducts refugee status determination as in State-implemented refugee status determination (RSD) procedures.
A fair refugee status determination is essential to identify those who should benefit from protection the Refugee Convention affords, and to ensure that governments (and UNHCR when mandated) 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.