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June 27, 2019

Maria Valdez

Jesuit Refugee Services
Malta, Malta

When I began as a student at Lewis & Clark Law School, I planned to focus my studies on international health and human rights law to build on my background in global health as a physician and professor. During my 1L and 2L years, I worked as a legal volunteer for the CARA Pro Bono Project on the Texas-Mexico border with asylum seekers and at Her Justice in New York City with immigrant victims of crime. These experiences highlighted the connection between immigration law and health policy, inspiring me to seek further experience in international migration law.

After completing a program last year in Costa Rica and Geneva studying international human rights and humanitarian law with Santa Clara Law School, I sought out an externship with Jesuit Refugee Services, Malta. After much anticipation and planning, I am now working in Malta alongside a—small, but mighty—legal, psychosocial, and medical team throughout the 2018/19 school year, while also researching and writing about refugee access to medical services.

My day to day at JRS, Malta keeps me on my toes. I am learning the ropes and assisting the legal team with asylum cases, community outreach, and legal advocacy. The work has proved to be challenging and rewarding thus far, and I am often rendered speechless by the tireless efforts of my colleagues and the men, women, and children (many unaccompanied) who have braved the journey across the Mediterranean to escape ongoing conflict, persecution, poverty and climate change.

It has been a privilege to walk alongside each person-seeking asylum, to learn their names and hear their stories. I am grateful for the opportunity that has allowed me to draw on my previous experience and to gain new insight into the reality of why more and more people are forcibly or voluntarily displaced. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of the Italian doctor, Pietro Bartolo, who has provided critical health care for refugees in Lampedusa and who said, “Everyone has the duty to help, welcome and assist these people – without exception.”

In the meantime, I get to enjoy my love of travel and meeting people from around the world, thanks to the support of my family, friends and colleagues, and most importantly, with the help of a generous PILP stipend that helped me afford getting and staying here for several months to do this work. Thank you.