HIAS Costa Rica Helps Launch Legal Support Network for Refugees

By Gabe Cahn, HIAS.org

Costa Rica plays host to some 11,000 refugees and asylum seekers from neighboring countries including Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia and Honduras.

The dramatic increase in asylum seekers entering Costa Rica recently, particularly from Venezuela, has highlighted the growing need to make comprehensive legal assistance more readily available to this population.

HIAS’ 16-person team in San Jose, led by country director Kathya Araya, has made great strides toward protecting the rights of the country’s refugees and asylum seekers, but ensuring their respect, dignity and freedom requires working together with a broad array of partners.

The infrastructure for serving this influx of people forced to flee their homes due to persecution, conflict and violence is still developing. As a result, complex asylum procedures can seem inaccessible, and the perception of a lack of legal advice or connections to legal representation can become a barrier to truly restarting one’s life in safety.

That is why, on April 25, 2018, HIAS Costa Rica participated as a founding member in the official launch of a new legal support network for providing refugees the right to asylum in the Americas. The Red de Apoyo Legal para los Refugiados en las Américas, or RALRA, was born out of a meeting between 38 local organizations in May 2017 which aimed to formulate a regional strategy in conjunction with civil society actors to defend effective access to rights for all refugees.

"HIAS is proud to be helping people understand the scope of the assistance available to them throughout the refugee status determination process,” said Araya, who represented HIAS at the launch event.

“This powerful new coalition will expand the reach of our work and provide refugees and asylum seekers with vital and timely legal advice."

As part of the event earlier this week, Araya participated in a Facebook Live panel at The Inter-American Institute of Human Rights to discuss the endeavor. You can view the replay of the panel here, or by clicking play below.

RALRA’s mission is structured around four central pillars: training lawyers in international refugee law and human rights, pursuing comparative research on international law as well as new areas of legal development and interpretation, strategic litigation and direct legal support through counseling, guidance and representation.

Marco Formisano, the regional manager of asylum issues and determination of refugee status of UNHCR, endorsed the initiative, saying the UN Refugee Agency “encourages all kinds of alliances among the actors that can contribute concretely to this effort, in all sectors of society."

For Araya and the HIAS team, RALRA is not the only cooperative measure they are participating in. In addition to partnering with UNHCR as its implementing partner organization in the legal field, HIAS Costa Rica was honored on April 23 with the "Viva La Integración” Seal.

The seal is a unique certification granted by UNHCR which “recognizes the commitment of organizations and institutions to the development of Costa Rican society,” taking into account the contributions of refugees, the promotion and defense of their rights and the need to raise awareness about the opportunities for integration.

Commenting on receiving the award, which was presented to Araya by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, Vice President Ana Helena Chacón and UNHCR Representative Carlos Maldonado, Araya said: “I am so proud to be a part of the movement which is building an inclusive society that respects the rights of refugees.”

“When given the opportunity, refugees can contribute to the development of our country just like anyone else. Together with UNHCR, RALRA and our other partners, HIAS is at the forefront of making this vision a reality in Costa Rica.”

To learn more about HIAS’ work protecting refugees and asylum seekers in Costa Rica, click here.

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