The notion of ‘human rights’ can seem vague and theoretical – but what does it really mean to protect human rights?
Physicians for Human Rights’ Asylum Network is a community of hundreds of health professionals who offer pro bono physical and psychological evaluations to document evidence of torture and persecution for men and women fleeing danger in their home countries. Survivors of human rights abuses are legally entitled to seek safe haven in the United States, but often find themselves immersed in lengthy and complex legal procedures that could ultimately result in deportation, resulting in further abuse, torture, and even death.
The Asylum Network at Physicians for Human Rights conducted 317 evaluations during the 2010-2011 academic year. These evaluations aided survivors of female genital mutilation, LGBT persecution, gang violence, government-sponsored torture, and a number of other forms of persecution. 10% of these evaluations were shadowed by medical students and residents through student-run asylum clinics.
PHR has partnered with student-run clinics at Mount Sinai, Cornell, UCSF, and University of Miami, and is now working with students to establish asylum evaluations at a student-run clinic at Tufts School of Medicine. These clinics offer not only direct medical training for students and residents, but provide much-needed forensic evaluations to survivors of egregious human rights abuses. Evaluators sign medical affidavits, which provide clear evidence of persecution to courts and help secure legal status for survivors who deserve the chance to start their lives anew in the US.
PHR forensic evaluations are conducted by licensed physicians and residents, psychologists, and clinical social workers. However, medical students can play a very active role in conducting forensic evaluations. Asylum clinics run by students are a valuable resource, and PHR is always looking to expand to more medical schools.
How can you establish an asylum clinic?
PHR has created an online Asylum and Detention Toolkit to help students understand the purpose of the Asylum Network and how to contribute. The essential steps are:
1. If your school has a free clinic, see if it can be reserved for a few hours a week or month for forensic evaluations.
2. Recruit interested doctors who would be willing to conduct evaluations while teaching medical students. Professors, clinicians, mentors, and residents are all great resources for building a team for your clinic. Once identified, have the physicians join the PHR network directly. They receive excellent training (and CME credits).
3. Identify a point person for the PHR student clinic. This student representative will be responsible for in-take for clients referred by PHR. When the clinic has openings for client evaluations, the point person will notify PHR, who will then send a list of pending clients. This is a critical role: the linchpin of the process.
Throughout the process, PHR will be available to answer any questions, provide training materials and example affidavits, and place you in touch with students and mentors from the already operating student clinics. Please see the example of the clinic at the University of Miami here.
Student clinics are an effective way to gain valuable clinical experience while directly helping clients in critical need of medical evaluations. Students who are involved in their asylum clinics can arrange training sessions for students and residents, host meetings to present their asylum work, and continue to get more students and licensed practitioners alike passionate and motivated about helping this vulnerable population.
If you are interested in establishing an asylum clinic at your school, please contact Kelly Holz, the Asylum Network Coordinator, at kholz[at]phrusa[dot]org. She will be available to answer any questions, and to provide all of the available resources.
The Asylum Network needs more forensic evaluators – and you can recruit them for us through establishing a student-run asylum clinic. Contact the Asylum Network today!