Human Rights First celebrated World Refugee Day 2011 by paying homage to their law firm partners for outstanding pro bono legal service on behalf of indigent refugees. Refugees are persons who are unable or unwilling to return to their native countries due to a well-founded fear of persecution or because their lives or freedom would be threatened. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that, by the end of last year, nearly 44 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide, 15.4 million of them refugees.
Many displaced men, women, and children spend years living in crowded camps, others languish in detention centers only to be deported back to the very countries that persecuted them. The most fortunate among them are granted asylum or refugee status, a bittersweet outcome because, for many, it means starting life over and permanent separation from their childhood homes, hard-earned careers and families.
MSNBC captures the powerful story of one courageous woman, Marie Rose Mukeni Beya, who fled Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) with her youngest daughter after being targeted, detained, and tortured for questioning the Mobutu dictatorship and championing women’s rights at the university where she was the only female professor. The Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First matched Mukeni Beya with firms Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP* and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP*. The mother of five had high praise for the legal team with whose pro bono assistance she found lawful permanent refuge in the U.S. and rebuilt her life:
Being here as a refugee is a hard experience. You experience humiliation – every single day. You experience unemployment, homelessness, sickness – all these experiences just push you down. The way [my attorneys] treat me, they were with me every single day. I consider them as part of my family.
Mukeni Beya recently accepted a position as an associate professor of child development at the City College of New York, and is preparing for her naturalization interview in hopes to soon take an oath to become a U.S. citizen.
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*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®