On human rights, the United States must be a beacon. America is strongest when our policies and actions match our values.More
Home / Refugee Voices

Refugee Voices

    • Parvaneh from Iran

      Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP

      Parvaneh Vahidmanesh is a human rights activist and journalist from Iran.  She had a history of activism, but it was when Parvaneh wrote a book about the lives of Jews in contemporary Iran that she began to fear for her life. Government officials, who must approve all written work before publication, decided that the book was propaganda for Israel—a crime punishable by death—and began a campaign of harassment and intimidation against her.  Fortunately, Parvaneh was able to leave Iran to lecture the University of Virginia.

      Shortly after she left Iran, protests broke out in Iran in response to the presidential elections, and the Iranian government reacted with violence. Horrified at what was happening in her country, Parvaneh wrote an open letter to Ali Khameini that was published in the Wall Street Journal.  She condemned the violence and urged the Supreme Leader to allow freedom of expression in Iran.  By the end of the year, Parvaneh was forced to make the difficult decision to apply for asylum in the United States.

      Parvaneh’s case was assigned to a team of attorneys at Akin, Gump Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP.  The team was led by Steve Schulman and Juliet Gray, who represented Parvaneh before the Arlington Asylum Office.  Thanks to Juliet’s excellent work, Parvaneh was successfully granted asylum, and is now a lawful permanent resident.  Parvaneh is still fighting for human rights, as a program officer for Freedom House in Washington DC.

    “I was very scared. I was a lone woman here in the U.S. When Human Rights First accepted my case, I really felt that now I have something for the future.”
    Parvaneh Vahidmanesh

    • Human Rights in Iran

      • The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic established in 1979. The constitution, amended in 1989, created a political system based on the concept of a “Supreme Leader,” and mandated that political leaders be vetted by clergy-dominated power structures. Since 1989 the supreme leader has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
      • While mechanisms for popular election exist within the structure of the state, the supreme leader directly controls the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government as well as the armed forces.
      • In spite of the work of activists like Parvaneh, The U.S. Department of State Human Rights report for 2013 found that in Iran, “the most egregious human rights problems were the government’s manipulation of the electoral process, which severely limited citizens’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections.”

    Lawyers Making a Difference

    “I felt that she is my friend, and she is my attorney and lawyer.  When I was approved, it was a new life for me, and both of us cried.”
    Parvaneh

    Human Rights First has been working with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP for more than twenty years. In that time, the firm has taken and won more than eighty asylum cases, in both New York and Washington DC.

    “If you decide to take on an asylum case, neither your law firm nor Human Rights First is going to just let you go it alone…there are plenty of people to go to for guidance.  I had never done an asylum case before this one and at the end, I felt amazing.”  --Juliet Gray

    In 2007, Akin Gump’s Washington, D.C. office was honored with a Marvin Frankel Award for its outstanding contribution to Human Rights First's asylum program.

    • Awoke's Hands

      Awoke from Ethiopia

      Represented by McDermott Will & Emery

      Awoke was a supporter of a political opposition group in his home country of Ethiopia. In the run-up to the general election of 2005, Awoke was arrested, detained and beaten during violent police crackdowns on peaceful protestors. Awoke and his fellow protestors believed that there had been government sponsored corruption in the voting process—a belief that was later confirmed by international observers.

      Even after this brutal experience, Awoke went on with his life and political feelings, hoping that he could be a part of making his country a better place to live. He graduated from college and started working in IT support and web programming. After that, Awoke opened his own successful cyber cafe. Unfortunately, his customers used his computers to download software to circumvent the government’s internet censorship and access blocked websites critical of the regime. Because of this internet activity, Awoke was again arrested, detained, beaten, and interrogated. He was released on the condition that he never participate in opposition politics again, and that he check-in each week at a local government office. Terrified at what the rest of his life would be like under the repressive Ethiopian regime, Awoke escaped to the United States and sought protection.

    “I feel I am on the right track to living the American Dream.  I see a lot of hope in my future. I see where I am able to change the lives of many others. Thank you Human Rights First.”
    Awoke

    • Human Rights in Ethiopia

      • Ethiopia is ruled by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnically based parties that have controlled the country since the 1990s. 
      • Torture and ill-treatment have been used by Ethiopia's police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish a spectrum of perceived dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and journalists.  Secret detention facilities and military barracks are most often used by Ethiopian security forces for such activities.
      • Although Ethiopia's criminal code and other laws contain provisions to protect fundamental human rights, they frequently go unenforced.  The U.S. Department of state found in 2013 that the most significant human rights problems included, “restrictions on freedom of expression and association, politically motivated trials, harassment and intimidate of opposition members and journalists, as well as continued restrictions on print media.”  This report further found that there were arbitrary killings, allegations of torture, beatings, interference in religious affairs, limits on citizens’ ability to change their government, infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, arbitrary arrest and detention and many other disturbing reports of abuse of Ethiopians at the hands of their own government.  

    Lawyers Making a Difference

    “When I was told that I was granted asylum, I would say it was the day that I was born again…I see my life totally changing. Thank you, Raymond.”
    -Awoke

    Human Rights First has been working with McDermott, Will & Emery for nearly 30 years. In that time, the firm has taken and won relief in every asylum case that Human Rights First has placed with the firm, both in their New York and Washington DC offices.

    “It was a successful case, and to see Awoke’s smile when he got the word that he had asylum, it was reward for all the work that we put into his case. It’s great to be in a country that not only affords its own citizens protection freedom from oppression on political grounds, but accepts others from countries around the world.” - Raymond Paretzky

    In 2009 and 2014, McDermott, Will & Emery’s Washington, D.C. office was honored with the Marvin Frankel Award for its outstanding contribution to Human Rights First's asylum program. This is the first time in the history of the Frankel award that a firm has been recognized twice for its achievement in pro bono representation.

    • Abdalmageed from Sudan

      Represented by Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP 

      Abdalmageed is a citizen of Sudan who has devoted his entire adult life to promoting human rights in his home country. His work focused on women's rights, the plight of internally displaced refugees, and victims of the conflict in Darfur.

      Because of his dedication to human rights, the Sudanese government kidnapped, blindfolded, and detained him for several months. He was brutally tortured and threatened with death many times. Following significant international pressure on the Sudanese government, Mr. Haroun was released and eventually fled to the United States, where he applied for asylum.

      Human Rights First assigned Abdalmageed’s case to Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, where he was represented before the Asylum Office by Dan Brown, Jane Qin, Paul Garrity, and Amanda Zablocki.  The team at Sheppard Mullin not only helped Abdalmageed receive asylum, but they also provided assistance with his adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident.

      Watch Abdalmageed's Story

    “When I came here, people they said to me, this is a very difficult, very complicated process, the refugee and asylum process. I don’t know how to thank Human Rights First and Sheppard Mullin.”
    Abdalmageed

    • Human Rights in Sudan

      Sudan is a country that has been marked by genocide and warfare.  Human rights activists are frequently targeted for persecution.

      The Sudanese government uses torture against members of the political opposition, civil society activists, and journalists - often arresting and detaining these individuals incommunicado, without charge. Detainees like Abdalmageed are regularly subjected to harsh interrogation tactics, such as being forced to endure extreme temperature variations.

    Lawyers Making a Difference

    “I was very happy because I got the news [that] Sheppard Mullin [took my case]. Sheppard Mullin helped me a lot. And they continue to help me.”
    Abdalmageed

    Human Rights First has been proud to partner with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, which has taken asylum cases through our asylum program for several years. We are grateful for the firm’s excellent work on behalf of many refugees who have received asylum in the United States because of the great lawyering of Sheppard Mullin attorneys.

    Human Rights First awarded the 2011 Marvin Frankel Award for pro bono service to Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP.

    • Kani from Turkey

      Represented by Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP

      Kani is a human rights activist from Turkey who has devoted his life to promoting the equal treatment of Kurdish people in Turkey and across the Middle East.  While assisting Kurdish refugees to seek protection in the United States, he stepped forward as a spokesman and advocate for a free and peaceful Kurdistan.  He contacted and lobbied members of the United States Congress to change U.S. policy towards the treatment of Kurds in Turkey.  His efforts did not go unnoticed by the Turkish government, and, in an effort to silence him, two of his siblings were brutally tortured.  After this, Kani realized that he and his family were not safe from persecution in Turkey and made the decision to seek asylum in the United States.

      Kani’s case was assigned to a team of attorneys at  Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, led by  Public Service Counsel, Karen Grisez. Fried Frank represented Kani before the immigration court, the Board of Immigration Appeals and at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  After years of hard work on the case, Kani was granted asylum and has started a new, successful life in the United States.  He now leads the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) and remains one of the foremost experts in the United States on Kurdish issues.

      Watch Kani's Story

    “It’s a sweet victory.  There is nothing like it, especially when the danger is so real…I feel protected now that I have asylum”
    Kani

    • Human Rights in Turkey

      A largely Sunni Muslim people with their own language and culture, most Kurds live in the generally contiguous areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Syria.

      In the early 20th century the Turkish government outlawed the Kurdish language and forbade Kurds to wear traditional Kurdish clothing in the cities. The government also encouraged the migration of Kurds to the cities in order to dilute their traditional ties to a nomadic and rural lifestyle.  

      Kurds have faced decades of repression and discrimination based on their ethnicity, persecution that continues today.

    Lawyers Making a Difference

    “[Karen Grisez]  helped me stand on my feet.  I owe my life to her.  I owe my liberty to her.”
    -Kani

    Human Rights First has worked with Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP for more than twenty years. In that time, the firm has taken and won dozens of asylum cases and has provided immeasurable support for their clients, as well as for Human Rights First's asylum program.

    In 2004, Fried Frank’s Washington, D.C. office was honored with a Marvin Frankel Award for its outstanding contribution to Human Rights First's asylum program.

    • Patti from Honduras

      Represented by Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

      Ana Patricia or “Patti” is a human rights activist from Honduras who has devoted years of work to promoting gay, women’s, and human rights in Honduras. After years of speaking out in favor of gay and women’s rights, Patti was raped at gunpoint by attackers who warned her that they were going to “make [her] wish that [she] had never been born.” As they hurled insults and threats at her, they made it clear that they opposed her work on recently proposed legislation that would have improved the rights of homosexuals in Honduras. In fear for her life, Patti was able to escape to the United States, where she sought asylum.

      Patti’s case was assigned to a team of attorneys at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP that included Robin Nunn, Frank Jin, Aman Mahray McHugh, Daniella Casseres, and Stacey Friedman. They represented her before the asylum office, the Newark Immigration Court, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. They also helped her petition for her children to come to the United States, where they are now resettled and doing well.

      Watch Patti's Story

    “When I contacted Human Rights First, the first feeling I got from the people that I was in touch with was hope.”
    Patti

    • Human Rights in Honduras

      Human rights defenders, including for women’s rights and LGBT rights, are often the targets of violence because of their activities. Many reported incidents of violence and persecution in Honduras often receive inadequate investigation.

      Reports of abuse and harassment by the police against LGBT activists continues, including violent killings of LGBT persons and documented cases of assault and discrimination against other members of the community.

    Lawyers Making a Difference

    “I knew that [Robin] was the person [who] was working above and beyond the scope of her professional responsibilities.”
    Patti

    Human Rights First has worked with Sullivan & Cromwell LLP for more than twenty years. In that time, the firm has taken and won dozens of challenging asylum cases. The firm has also taken a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) case. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP’s dedication to securing asylum from those facing persecution led the firm to establish an entire asylum practice group.

    Sullivan & Cromwell LLP was awarded the 2010 Marvin Frankel Annual Award for their pro bono contributions to Human Rights First.

Get Involved

Seeking Asylum?

We help people fleeing persecution obtain asylum in the United States by matching them with pro bono lawyers.

Want to Help?

Volunteer lawyers have the unique opportunity to change the lives of refugees by helping them win asylum in the United States. Help us save lives by taking a pro bono case.

Support Our Work

Help us be responsive as people needing our assistance arrive in the United States and as global human rights challenges emerge.