About Us

WHAT WE DO

The Refugee Translation Project provides free professional translation support to people seeking asylum and other immigration relief, translates information to help displaced persons access vital resources, and offers employment opportunities to asylees, so that refugees[1] can transition to a life of safety and security.

Translation plays a crucial role in an immigration application because it is the only mechanism by which a displaced person can convey their experiences fully and accurately to a court or immigration officer. Without access to translation, a person’s application cannot be processed, or their case may be rejected – oftentimes with life-or-death consequences.

Unfortunately, most of the people we serve cannot afford the high cost of translation. Providing evidence of persecution and other criteria for refugee and special immigrant status is key to successful outcomes. By providing this service free of charge to individuals, we ensure that applicants go into the immigration process with every piece of evidence they have, including medical records, identity papers, court documents, death threats, and personal statements. We also provide interpretation services for intake interviews and to prepare testimony.

OUR IMPACT

Since we began in May 2017, we have helped over 350 families and individuals from Afghanistan, Brazil, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Republic of Congo, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Yemen by translating documents related to asylum, resettlement, and other immigration procedures.

We have taken on 61 pro bono US asylum cases in which the Refugee Translation Project has covered the entire cost of translation. 78% of these cases have yielded successful outcomes, while 18% are still pending, and 4% are unknown.

We have translated over 185 pages of orientation materials to help bring Afghan and Ukrainian families to safety, as well as dozens of other orientation materials into Arabic, Spanish, French, and other languages to help refugees and immigrants access legal, health, and other resources.  

We have provided interpretation services to legal clinics run by partner organizations, which have helped hundreds of people get free legal advice.

Our work with IRAP (International Refugee Assistance Project) has helped at least 100 people resettle out of refugee camps and other precarious situations. IRAP uses the medical reports and legal documents we translate to determine refugees’ eligibility for various resettlement pathways.

We have provided work for 7 displaced or formerly displaced people.

OUR SERVICES

We provide fast, professional translations of documents related to asylum and other immigration cases to clients and partners remotely. We translate personal statements, medical records, identity papers, court documents, police reports, proof of online harassment, threatening letters, bank statements, newspaper articles and other evidence necessary to win asylum and resettlement cases. RTP also offers remote interpretation services by phone or video conference domestically and internationally.

Our language capacity continues to expand in order to accommodate needs as they arise.

We partner with nonprofit service providers and law firms to provide translation services to their clients. We also collaborate with nonprofits to translate crucial resources and resource guides to help refugees and immigrants access legal, health, and other services.

Individuals in need of our services can contact us directly via email to receive our services at no charge and get access to a built-in network for trusted referrals should the refugee need further legal or social services. Our innovative funding model optimizes available resources to ensure no asylum applicant RTP works with ever has to pay for any part of translation.

WE VALUE HIRING REFUGEES AS TRANSLATORS

Refugees often have dual language skills and relevant professional experience, as well as lived experience, making them uniquely qualified, yet they lack access to professional pathways to develop their careers. RTP steps in at this juncture to provide employment, supervision of translations, and capacity building to help multilingual refugees build their careers.  Their skills and lived experience mean increased familiarity and competency with the materials we are translating, which contributes to the overall effectiveness of our organization. Our fair and competitive rate provides a source of income while empowering refugees to help others in their community or situation.


The Refugee Translation Project is 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.


[1] We use the term refugee here as a shorthand to refer to a person who has been forced to leave their country and cannot return to their due to war, persecution or disaster, including, but not limited to, asylum seekers, TPS applicants, and people who fit the legal definition of “refugee.”


WHO WE ARE

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

DAMIAN HARRIS-HERNANDEZ

A Turkish translator by trade, Damian Harris-Hernandez co-founded the Refugee Translation Project in 2017 as an urgent response to the growing requests he was receiving to translate asylum applications following the post-coup attempt crackdown in Turkey. Unable to handle the volume of requests and reluctant to charge for services, he initiated a crowdfunding campaign at the suggestion of his wife, Jennifer. Since founding RTP, he has built a network of translators and donors to expand the size and scope of the organization. Prior to his career in translating, Damian worked as a youth educator at Recycle-A-Bicycle, an environmental education non-profit. He trained foreign-born teenagers in bicycle mechanics and environmental stewardship in a program that placed the students in related jobs, giving them an employment advantage while still in high school. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies from Columbia University, where he learned Turkish. Damian also teaches English to refugees living in Europe via online classes.


BOARD OF DIRECTORS

MOHAMED KHELIFI

Mohamed Khelifi, (Hammadi Khlifi) is a law graduate and writer from Tunisia. He holds a degree from Penn State University and Carthage University. He worked in several human rights organizations in Tunisia and New York such as the World Federalist Movement/Institute for Global Policy, the World Organization Against Torture and I Watch Organization/Transparency International. Mohamed has published two novels: Escape in 2016 that was awarded the Rambourg Foundation Award for Art and Culture, Dhawat National Students Bureau Award, and Prose Not For Publication in 2019. Mohamed’s work has also appeared in several journals around the world, including DAWN in D.C, Ultra Sawt in Doha, and Akhbaroukom in Beirut. Mohamed also participated in several social movements against corruption and impunity in the Tunisian government such as “I Will Not Forgive” and “Free Writers.”


JESSICA ROFÉ

Jessica Rofé is the Toni Rembe and Arthur Rock Immigrant Defense Fellow and Supervising Attorney at New York University School of Law, where she co-teaches the Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic. Together with clinic students, she represents immigrants and community organizations in advocacy to advance immigrant rights locally and nationwide. Prior to joining the Immigrant Rights Clinic, Jessica was an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow and staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, where she advised clients, families and attorneys about the potential immigration consequences of contact with the criminal legal system, and represented individuals facing deportation before immigration agencies and the federal courts. She was also an associate in the Latin America practice at Cleary Gottlieb. Before law school, Jessica was a secondary social studies educator in New York City public schools for nearly 5 years. She received her J.D. from New York University School of Law, where she was an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellow, her M.S.T. in Teaching from Fordham University, and her B.A.in History (with honors) from New York University. 


COURTNEY SCULLIN-TAYLOR

Courtney Scullin-Taylor is currently working as the Accounting Supervisor at the California Association of Food Banks, based in Oakland, California. In this position she merges her interests in a love of numbers, sustainability and fighting food insecurity. The Refugee Translation Project drew her attention due to her background in economics and immigration studies. She is thrilled to have an opportunity to support such an invaluable organization by sharing her wealth of knowledge in Not-For-Profit Accounting with the RTP team. She is enjoying the process of helping the organization grow and thrive. As often as possible, Courtney balances her accounting side by getting outside for a bike ride or some time in the garden. 


LEE WELLINGTON

Lee Wellington is the Founding Executive Director of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance (UMA), a national nonprofit that builds robust, inclusive manufacturing sectors in more than 250 cities across the United States. Prior to UMA, Lee worked in the public sector at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses and the New York City Council. While at the New York City Council, she was Chief of Staff to Carlos Menchaca where she had the privilege of working on New York City’s municipal identification card program, the launch of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project to provide free legal services for immigrants facing deportation, and the expansion of adult literacy programs. Lee also worked at nonprofit planning organizations including the Pratt Center for Community Development and the Waterfront Alliance, and at legal services organizations including the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project and South Brooklyn Legal Services. Lee holds a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School, an M.S. in City and Regional Planning from Pratt Institute, and a B.S. in Economics from the Stern School of Business at New York University.


OUR VALUES

The Refugee Translation Project believes all people deserve to live in peace and safety, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, and financial means. 

We resolve to explicitly and publicly affirm our identity as an anti-racist organization. Our organization’s anti-racism commitment is reflected in the life and culture of the organization through our policies, services, and practices as we continue to learn about racism. We work to develop and implement strategies that dismantle racism within all aspects of our organization and society.

All refugees deserve speedy and equitable access to the immigration process, and language should not be a barrier to telling their stories. We deeply feel the urgency in delivering accurate and timely translations to help refugees win cases.

Refugees make our communities better and stronger, and have always been an integral part of our society.

We believe people with lived experiences shared by those directly affected are in the best position to design the structure and lead the organization. Therefore, we are committed to developing procedures to ensure that refugees have key decision making roles in the organization and representation on our advisory council. As we build the council and the leadership body, we value having a culture of listening and learning from our team and the people we serve so that as an organization and as individuals we evolve to meet unfolding needs.

We are committed to paying our translators and staff a fair wage for the important work that they do.

Migration is a human right that we are determined to defend.

We are committed to welcoming refugees and helping to provide access to the resources necessary to ensure their safety, and enable them to benefit from, and contribute to our civil life.