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Asylum Access Fellowship

Ben Lewis ’11

The University of San Francisco’s Center for Law and Global Justice has partnered with Asylum Access, a San Francisco-based international nonprofit dedicated to making refugee rights a reality in the global south. With offices in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Asylum Access is uniquely able to advocate for global policies that respect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers while offering on-the-ground legal advocacy and support to those in need. Asylum Access uses a five tool approach to achieve their mission: legal aid, community legal empowerment, policy advocacy, strategic litigation, and movement building. In doing so, they have quickly become a dynamic and innovative leader in the refugee rights movement.

I came to law school knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in international human rights law and quickly felt at home among USF law's unique international programs. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity at USF to study international criminal law in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; report on the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the spontaneous camp settlements of Port-au-Prince, Haiti; to advocate on behalf of indigenous peoples before the International Finance Corporation; and to take the issue of forced evictions from Haitian IDP camps before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. These are just a few of the incredible opportunities that my USF legal education afforded and they have provided invaluable experience for the work that I am doing today with Asylum Access. 

As the 2011–2012 Asylum Access Legal Fellow, I play a number of vital roles to the agency's operations in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, including direct client representation, policy-advocacy with the Tanzanian government, and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), partnership with local and regional refugee-rights organizations, and capacity building among refugee and asylum-seeking communities. The international legal issues that I confront daily are extremely complex and on the cutting edge of refugee and asylum law. Their outcomes are also of vital importance to my clients. 

One such client is a Kenyan man who fled to Tanzania following Kenya's 2008 post-election violence in which ethnic tensions within Kenya led to large-scale looting and what some have called Kenya's worst violence since independence. More than 1,200 people were killed and some 350,000 were displaced both within Kenya and to neighboring countries. My client, his wife, and three boys have suffered brutal beatings, imprisonment, and multiple attempts on their lives. 

The family made the brave decision to leave their country in search of refuge in Tanzania. But, upon arriving, they have been met with a political and legal regime stacked against them. Despite a clear case of "well-founded fear" of persecution, the family's application for asylum has been denied by the government and now they must make the difficult decision to flee elsewhere or to remain in Tanzania as "illegal immigrants" without the ability to legally work, reside, receive medical care, or attend school. I am currently working to file an appeal on their behalf and have sought financial, housing, and medical assistance while they are awaiting the outcome. 

I am confident that my USF legal education has prepared me well to meet this and future challenges. The Asylum Access Legal Fellowship has also confirmed my passion for international human rights law and provided a concrete opportunity for me to launch my career. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and to be working to strengthen Asylum Access's great work around the world.

 —Ben Lewis '11

Click here to read more on Ben Lewis' experiences in Tanzania.