Articles Profiling Some of the Asylum Clinic's Clients
Published in the UConn Law School Graduate Report, Spring 2009:
UConn Medical School is on the horizon for Lagu Androga, a native of Sudan who, in 2004, sought help from the Law School's Asylum and Human Rights Clinic while he was a student at Wesleyan University.
From 1990, when he was eight years old, to 1999, Androga lived in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing with his family from southern Sudan where his father, a former teacher and employee of Norwegian Church Aid, was repeatedly targeted by the Sudanese government and the rival Sudanese People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA) - which murdered his uncle. “The main issue in Sudan's long civil war was the Arab government's imposition of Islamic law on southern blacks and Christians,” wrote Androga - who is black and Christian - in the affidavit for his asylum case. "My father's arrests always occurred after the bombings intensified between the Sudanese government and the SPIA (which the government suspected used black intellectuals as spies). My family and I (would run) to the Nile River to avoid the shelling."
At the refugee camp in Kakuma (which means "nowhere" in Swahili), Androga's family lived in a mud hut and a few tents made from plastic bags. For the tens of thousands of refugees crowded into the hot, dry camp, survival depended largely on daily food rations provided by various NGOs and relief organizations. "For two weeks, we would live off of a one-quart container of oil, a bag of maize, a pot of beans and some salt," Androga noted in his affidavit. "Illegal hunting of wild animals was the most common method of acquiring additional food." Other wild creatures - such as poisonous scorpions and snakes - were not so welcome a sight. "At night we would have to tuck ourselves in blankets and shoo off these menaces."
With help from Jesuit Refugee Services, Androga was able to temporarily escape from life in the camp when, at the age of 16, he attended boarding school in Nairobi. After returning to Kakuma, Androga pursued a program sponsored by the Wyndham Charitable Trust that enabled him to study at the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales, an opportunity that would lead to his admission to Wesleyan in 2003.
Upon completion of his undergraduate work (which included a summer in Alaska on a medical research internship), Androga worked at Accenture Consulting. He then completed a one-year post baccalaureate program at UConn to help him get ready for medical school, which he hopes to start in August 2009, thanks in no small way to the efforts of the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic. "(Clinic Director) Jon Bauer, Victoria Britton '06 and David Yi '06 did amazing work on my behalf and helped get me to where I am today," says Androga, who is blind in one eye - the result of being denied medical treatment by a government-employed doctor after a childhood accident. "Until I started working with them I dealt with my past as if it never existed: it was too painful, too sad, to think about. David and Victoria would drive me back and forth to Wesleyan and we would just talk, .I am so grateful to them and to Jon. I can't thank them enough."
For Britton, an associate at Mason, Griffin & Pierson, P.C. in Princeton, NJ, and Yi, a deputy attorney general with the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, the opportunity to help Androga gain asylum is thanks enough. "Hearing that Lagu had received asylum was one of the happiest days of my life," says Britton, whose tireless efforts included securing an affidavit from Androga's father that corroborated many of the stories about the abuse and discrimination that his family faced in Sudan. "I was so fortunate to be able to assist him on his journey. It is the most rewarding experience I have had in my legal career..."
I feel privileged to have been an advocate for Mr. Androga," adds Yi. "At the interview before the hearing officer, I was fortunate to give the closing summation. Having been up since 4:00 am to prepare and commute to the immigration office (in New Jersey), I was tired and over-caffeinated. But Mr. Androga's story had to be told and, eventually, the hearing officer agreed that political asylum was appropriate."
Asylum was a major step toward my becoming a more respectable person," says the self-effacing Androga, who plans to apply for U.S. citizenship as soon as he is eligible. "And getting my green card (in 2009) was one of the happiest moments of my life. It signaled the end of my life as a refugee."
Looking ahead, Lagu Androga hopes to be a surgeon or work in public health and immunology, perhaps at the World Health Organization, where he can help refugees like his parents, who currently live in a refugee camp in Uganda. "My interest in medicine started when I was only 10 years old," he recalls with a warm smile. "I had so much respect for the doctors in the camp and the wonderful work they did. I wanted to be just like them." •
Published in The University of Connecticut Foundation, Inc. 2006 Annual Report:
Without legal representation, petitioners for political asylum in the United States face a high risk that their applications will be denied. Language barriers, unfamiliarity with the U.S. legal system and a lack of financial resources are common obstacles. In the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic at the UConn School of Law, students work in pairs representing Connecticut residents seeking asylum in the U.S. The Clinic provides excellent legal representation with the help of donors whose generous support covers the expenses incurred to build a convincing case for individuals like Munira Okovic.
As a Bosnian Muslim, Okovic witnessed Serbian ethnic cleansing and faced the constant threats of sexual assault and death throughout the 1992-96 Bosnian-Serb conflict. Following the end of the war, she came to the U.S. and sought asylum so that she would not have to return and endure further persecution. Successfully represented by the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic, Okovic was granted asylum in July 2005.
Founded in 2002, the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic is the newest legal clinic at the School of Law. The Clinic has represented clients from 20 countries in Africa, Central and South America, Eastern and Western Asia, and Eastern Europe. During the course of one semester, law students usually see a case through adjudication.
"We have a long tradition of having students learn by representing low-income clients in a way that's integrated with a rigorous academic curriculum," says Clinic Director Jon Bauer.
Students refine such key skills as research, client interaction and counseling, case planning, direct and cross examination, brief writing and working with field experts. Bauer emphasizes the important role clinic experience plays in preparing students to work effectively with clients despite language or cultural differences. As a legal representative, it's the student's job to explain the asylum process; to do so, the student must understand and address not only the differences between their legal systems, but often also the differences in cultural mores.
"Increasingly lawyers have to work with diverse populations. Students need to gain experience and understanding of other cultures," Bauer explains. "Cross-cultural communication skills, that's something I think is really valuable about the clinic."
In addition to lawyering skills, clinic experience instills a sense of duty to public service. "One of our missions as a public law school is to train legal practitioners who will work in the public interest," says Bauer. The Asylum and Human Rights Clinic "inculcates a passion for doing pro bono and public service work," he explains. Many graduates who have accepted positions in top law firms have continued representing low-income clients, asylum applicants in some cases, on a pro bono basis. "Many of our students have a real commitment to pro bono work," Bauer notes.
The Clinic works closely with the Department of Psychiatry at the UConn Health Center to provide evaluation and treatment for clients who may have mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety resulting from persecution. Mental health workers from UCHC, Physicians for Human Rights and other organizations have served as expert witnesses attesting to clients' mental states and the threats clients face if returned to their countries of origin. Bauer notes that their testimony has been critical to a number of successful outcomes.
The Clinic's 84 percent grant rate far exceeds the national average of 25 to 30 percent.
"The Clinic has been a great resource for the immigrant community in Connecticut," says Bauer. "I attribute our success to the incredible work that the students put in and their incredible commitment."
"They did everything," explains Okovic, whose first asylum application—filed without legal representation—was denied on the basis of insufficient evidence. "The students, they worked so hard. I was really impressed. They saved my life."
For Okovic, asylum has meant a chance to live free from persecution and to pursue her dreams. She is currently enrolled at the UConn Stamford campus in the Bachelor of General Studies program with a focus in international political economy and diplomacy. Upon graduating in summer 2008, she intends to take an active role in peace efforts.
"I definitely want to give back. After being a recipient of humanitarian aid in Bosnia, I know how much it helps," says Okovic, who plans to seek a position at the United Nations. "I would like to work for humanitarian and relief organizations, and help make peace."
The Clinic was initially funded by a combination of support from UCONN 2000, the Civil Clinic Endowment Fund supported by William R. Davis '55, and other private gifts. The Davis endowment funds the William R. Davis Clinical Teaching Fellowship, which is currently held by Michelle Caldera. Other current major donors include the Wilson Wilde Family Foundation and the Joshua Greenberg Memorial Client Assistance Fund, in honor of Joshua Greenberg '95, which helps pay for client expenses such as interpreters and experts.
|Spring 2009 Client Profile.pdf||4.72 MB|