March 10, 2017

ABA ROLI’s Armenia Refugee Legal Assistance Center Provides Lifeline of Pro Bono Assistance


Between November 2016 and February 2017, the RLAC has supported nearly 300 cases spanning a host of legal issues from citizenship to business and loan proceedings to pension and medical aid.

In fall 2016, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) began implementing the Legal Assistance Program for Displaced and Conflict-Affected Persons in Armenia. The targeted program provides business- and tax-related trainings and legal assistance to refugees, newly naturalized citizens and asylum seekers, including many Syrian Armenians who fled the Syrian Civil War. ABA ROLI’s Refugee Legal Assistance Center (RLAC) — opened in November 2016 — engages 13 well-trained lawyers, public defenders and law students who consistently go above and beyond to help those who come to RLAC for help with their legal needs, often personally accompanying them to relevant government ministries to help navigate different administrative processes. Between November 2016 and February 2017, the RLAC has supported nearly 300 cases spanning a host of legal issues from citizenship to business and loan proceedings to pension and medical aid. The three most common types of cases have concerned loan obligations, pension benefits and health care. ABA ROLI staff members recently interviewed some of the refugees who came to RLAC for help.

After defaulting on a business loan, a court seized all of a Syrian refugee’s assets and property.

John Karapetyan fled Syria with his family to start a new life and took out a loan to start a new business that ended up not succeeding, leaving him unable to pay his loan back. After the Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun first instance courts decided to put a ban on all of his property and financial resources, John came to RLAC, where ABA ROLI’s staff thoroughly examined his case, finding that the court system did not have the authority to seize all of John’s assets because of this loan default. They submitted a request for relief from the Compulsory Enforcement Service of the Ministry of Justice, and it was granted. This was an important outcome not only for John but for all program beneficiaries facing similar challenges, many of whom come to Armenia not knowing how to navigate the business context, market and Armenian laws. RLAC has since stepped in to address these gaps through trainings and direct legal aid.

RLAC and notary travel to elderly disabled man to help him register for pension benefits

After the 2016 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, an elderly man, Marat Ghazaryan, was injured, lost all of his three children, fled from the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh to a regional city in Armenia, and remained bedridden and in need of permanent medical care. He needed government benefits but could not physically get out of bed to go to the notary office to get his authorization letter and paperwork validated. After ABA ROLI’s RLAC staff learned about his case, they traveled to his bedside with the city notary to help him fill out the paperwork needed to receive the government benefits he was due. Marat now receives pension benefits, his only source of income, due to ABA ROLI’s RLAC.

A family of four finds the medical help they need.

A Syrian-Armenian family of four came to RLAC seeking disability benefits. Each member of the family suffers from serious health issues which make it nearly impossible for them to work or afford the medical check-ups required to substantiate their disabilities. They came to RLAC for assistance and RLAC advocates sent letters on behalf of the family to the Ministries of Diaspora and Health. ABA ROLI received responses granting the family free medical aid, including examinations, treatments and even necessary operations.

ABA ROLI’s work to support the needs of refugees, newly naturalized citizens and asylum seekers in Armenia is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the subjects and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.

To learn more about our work in Armenia, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org