RIF Asylum Is Helping Asylum Seekers Get Necessary Support During the COVID-19 Crisis

RIF Asylum is a nonprofit organization based in New York City that was founded to fill the city’s gap in orientation services for asylum seekers. They currently work out of The Alley, one of All Good Work’s Hosts donating space in NYC.

The organization’s main mission is to provide asylum seekers with information about the process in the hopes of helping them avoid fraudulent and predatory immigration practitioners. Their work aims to empower asylum seekers to have more control of their experiences by making the process much more seamless and easier to navigate. 

Information really is the most powerful tool for these individuals. 

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, RIF Asylum quickly realized that many asylum seekers would need additional assistance than what the organizations already provided. Speaking to All Good Work, Maria Blacque-Belair and Emma Myers from RIF Asylum, stated that “cash assistance was the number one priority.” 

RIF Asylum proceeded to ask donors to make cash donations so that they could support asylum seekers that did not yet have a workers permit and were, therefore, not eligible for government assistance. 

“We were able to raise $25,000, which went straight to our cash assistance funds,” Myers commented. This allowed RIF Asylum to distribute 90 grants and add another 90 to their pipeline. 

“We were able to give people money when they needed it immediately.”

Many asylum seekers work in informal arrangements and they tend to work in industries that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. They also tend to live in informal housing arrangements, which means they are more at risk of losing their housing. 

Though the city of New York stated that it would launch a program to support people without work permits or undocumented migrants, some are unwilling to apply for such benefits for fear of future consequences linked to their informal status. 

To respond to this, RIF Asylum is offering legal consultations online, as the organization is unable to meet people in their home coworking space, Alley, due to the pandemic. 

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick on legal consulting requests,” Myers comments. Both from asylum seekers that have a work permit and those who do not. 

Asylum seekers that have obtained their work permits and are eligible to government benefits also need legal assistance. 

“We are helping them apply for government benefits. For many of them, the form can be confusing, especially because english is not their first language. Our volunteers have been talking to asylum seekers on the phone and helping them fill out forms for them.” 

In addition to this, RIF Asylum  is crowdsourcing information to make government benefits more accessible. 

Their efforts have been well worth it. Myers and Blacque-Belair shared 2 success stories of how RIF Asylum has supported asylum seekers during the pandemic. 

“Yaya won his asylum two years ago with help from RIF’s legal team. While Yaya was waiting for his asylum decision, we connected him with one of our partners, Brooklyn Grange. Yaya has a civil engineering background, and he quickly landed a job in Brooklyn Grange’s green roof consultation department. Through his work, he gained a sense of purpose, community, and belonging. When COVID-19 forced small businesses like Brooklyn Grange to curtail most of their public-facing operations, Yaya was laid off. Losing his job was stressful, but he was especially concerned about being able to send money to his wife and children back home. He’s still waiting for them to get status to join him in the U.S. For days, he tried to call the New York State Department of Labor to apply for unemployment insurance but the phone lines were always busy or the hold times were too long. Finally, he connected with a volunteer who helped him complete the online application. His request was approved immediately, and a few days ago he received his first direct deposit. Yaya’s success in completing the application with the help of a volunteer has inspired our new program which seeks to replicate this experience for other asylum seekers struggling to navigate the complicated system!”

Photo: Anne Saint-Pierre. A photographer who’s been volunteering to document RIF’s work for years and her photos have been so instrumental for us to tell the story of their organization and community!

“Karen was one of our first cash assistance recipients. She and her family are Venezuelan, and they are seeking asylum in the United States. In recent years, Venezuelans have become the largest asylum seeking demographic in New York City. When COVID-19 hit the city, Karen and her husband found themselves suddenly without work. Having already been living paycheck to paycheck, they struggled to find the money to pay for rent. Their landlord refused to install an internet connection so that her kids could continue attending school remotely, and eventually, he even threatened to kick them out despite the city’s moratorium on evictions. Our cash assistance grant helped Karen and her family cover their rent and maintain some semblance of normalcy during a time of such disruption.”

Karen and her family express their gratitude! What a beautiful family!

If you’d like to learn more about RIF Asylum’s work, visit their website here. RIF Asylum is a resident organization of the All Good Work program.