About the Human Rights Initiative

The Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S) Human Rights Initiative (HRI) is an organization of Columbia medical students and faculty members committed to developing a human rights-based approach to medicine. We see human rights as a continuously evolving set of shared principles describing and protecting our fundamental humanity in a rapidly globalizing world. The Initiative advocates for using medicine to identify, document, and alleviate human rights abuses. Given the complex nature of human rights advocacy, the initiative examines the connections between medicine, economics, law, sociology, and humanitarianism. We raise awareness of and challenge the current dialogue around human rights through events and initiatives.

About the Asylum Clinic

The VP&S Human Rights Initiative oversees the Columbia Human Rights Initiative Asylum Clinic (CHRIA), which provides pro bono medical evaluations to those seeking asylum in the United States. Founded in 2010, the clinic comprises a multidisciplinary group of clinicians, who are trained to identify the physical and mental effects of abuse and torture. After an evaluation, the physician will compose an affidavit outlining any relevant symptoms and signs, which becomes a valuable component of an asylum applicant’s legal case.

Students are involved in all aspects of the Asylum Clinic, including recruiting physicians, working with attending physicians trained in the medical evaluation process, and writing the affidavit.

The Asylum Clinic is affiliated with Physicians for Human Rights, an international non-governmental organization committed to using medical expertise to document human rights abuse.

Our Partners

CHRIA is pleased to partner with several organizations, including the following.

  • Physicians for Human Rights: The Columbia VP&S Asylum Clinic is a member of PHR’s Asylum Network, a community of health professionals who offer pro bono forensic evaluations to document evidence of torture and persecution for adults and children fleeing danger in their home countries. 
  • Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights: As the first student-run Asylum Clinic in the country, WCCHR has been an invaluable partner in developing our training curriculum and providing support. Our student training is a joint venture with WCCHR at their campus. Cornell physicians are welcome to attend our physician training free of charge.
  • Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School: HRI is proud to partner with Columbia Law’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. Medical students and clinician volunteers work with law students to evaluate clients detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic is involved in projects related to immigration reform.
  • Columbia VP&S Club: HRI is housed under and receives financial support from the VP&S Club. The VP&S Club is American medical education's most comprehensive student activities organization. Founded by Nobel Peace Laureate John R. Mott in 1894, the Club sponsors approximately 70 extracurricular organizations.
  • Columbia Community Partnership for Health (CCPH): CCPH, under the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, generously provides space for the HRI Asylum Clinic to see clients. CCPH is a unique, inviting, and multipurpose space for conducting health research, health promotion activities, research education, and research dissemination.

Our Generous Sponsors

CHRIA extends our thanks to the devoted sponsors who make our work possible. 

  • The Kraft Family Fund for Interfaith and Intercultural Awareness (Office of the University Chaplain)
  • The Steve Miller Fellowship in Medical Education (CUIMC Department of Pediatrics)
  • Bobbie and Nick Banda
  • Lore and Glenn Mariano

Contact Us

Contact our clinic for further information on evaluations, training sessions, events, support opportunities, and more.

Contact CHRIA