VP&S Human Rights Initiative and Asylum Clinic

Columbia Asylum Clinic

The VP&S Human Rights Initiative is an organization of Columbia medical students and faculty members committed to developing a human rights-based approach to the practice of medicine. We see human rights as a continuously evolving set of shared principles that describe and protect our fundamental humanity in a rapidly globalizing world. The Initiative advocates for the use of 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. Through events and initiatives, the organization raises awareness of and challenges the current dialogue around human rights.

About the Asylum Clinic

The VP&S Human Rights Initiative oversees the Asylum Clinic, which provides pro bono medical evaluations to those seeking asylum in the United States. Founded in 2010, the clinic is composed of psychiatric, medical, and gynecological physicians, clinical social workers, and psychologists who have received training in identifying the physical and mental sequelae of abuse and torture. After an evaluation, the physician will compose an affidavit outlining any symptoms and signs relevant to the client's narrative. With these independent medical examinations, the clinic provides valuable evidence as part of an asylum applicant’s legal case.

Students are involved in all aspects of the Asylum Clinic, from physician recruitment to clinical administration. When operating the clinic, students work with attending physicians trained in the medical evaluation process. Students help to conduct the evaluation and write the affidavit. Additionally, students can travel to court to see the outcome of their work.

The U.S. asylum process currently does not guarantee applicants an independent medical evaluation, at times leaving them unable to demonstrate their need for asylum status. By connecting asylum seekers with legal and medical professionals, the clinic seeks to overcome the barriers that immigrants face in accessing legal representation and navigating the immigration court system.

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

Contact: chriaclinic@cumc.columbia.edu