Afghan Refugee Initiative

Signatory Showcase
The Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) project is highlighting the legal department of Zurich North America for this month’s Signatory Showcase. In 2022 Zurich partnered with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) to co-host an Afghan Asylum Clinic with the Women’s Muslim Resource Center.
Zurich North America’s Legal Services Department focuses on supporting its businesses by providing representation and legal services for the company, but each year more than 50 percent of the company’s in-house lawyers also help those less fortunate through volunteering their time and expertise to provide pro bono advice on immigration, estate planning, criminal records relief, and other legal issues. Kathy Malamis, Division Counsel and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee at Zurich North America, shares a recent experience co-hosting an asylum clinic for Afghan refugees.

Why has the Afghan refugee initiative been an impactful pro bono project for Zurich North America’s legal department?

KM: After the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, about 2,500 Afghans resettled in Illinois, where Zurich North America is based. Many were concerned about being deported and needed assistance navigating the process for asylum. Working alongside interpreters, Zurich’s attorneys and legal staff helped almost a dozen refugees complete and file applications for asylum and other documents to ensure they could remain in the United States while seeking permanent visas.

The Zurich volunteers were honored to help the Afghan refugees — many of whom worked alongside the U.S. military in Afghanistan — pursue a safe and secure future in the United States. Sometimes the impact of our pro bono volunteerism helps people overcome small problems. This clinic, however, gave us the chance to have a life-saving impact by helping to provide safety and peace of mind for people driven from their homeland.

How did partnering with other organizations help with hosting a successful clinic?

KM: We were fortunate to team up with several organizations as co-hosts, which brought experience and dedication to the project. This helped us logistically serve the greatest number of people in the most efficient and effective way. For instance, our partners organized a training session, pre-screened the clients, provided the facility for the clinic and organized the interpreters.

What was the most challenging part of this project?

KM: The greatest challenge was hearing the harrowing stories from the Afghan refugees and wishing we could help more people in the community.

Is there any advice that you would give to other legal departments who want to either get involved with a refugee initiative or alternatively, want to become more focused on a certain pro bono issue as a department?

KM: I would highly recommend partnering with a local legal aid organization. They know where there is the most need in a community and what issues require the most attention. Also, they likely have hosted clinics with other partners and can help you organize a successful event.

How would you describe Zurich’s commitment to pro bono work?

KM: There is a strong institutional commitment to community service at Zurich. Laura Lazarczyk, Zurich North America’s Chief Legal Officer, founded our Pro Bono Program in 2011, and for nearly 12 years it has consistently connected individuals of limited means with volunteers who can offer free legal expertise. In 2022 alone, Zurich staffed over 150 volunteer shifts and co-hosted various pro bono clinics with numerous legal aid organizations. Giving back is at the very heart of Zurich’s culture, and the Legal Department wholeheartedly supports these endeavors.

Check out more of the excellent pro bono work our signatories have done to serve those in need on our Signatory Showcase page.