FAR’s first 10 years
FAR’s story cannot be told in a few pages, simply by outlining numbers and years. This is a story of professors encouraging their students and generously giving them knowledge and practice; a story of the students who have defended fundamental human rights for years within the “Legal Clinic”, and most importantly – this is a story of the thousands of refugees whose unique stories we have tackled. FAR’s story is a story for the warmth present in human hearts.
FAR is an organization to which creation and development have contributed dozens of people, and at its heart is lawyer Valeria Ilareva. This story is written as a tale from three people, for which FAR plays a key role: lawyer PhD Valeria Ilareva, lawyer Magdalena Miteva and Olga Dimytrow.
By reading their short interviews, dedicated on FAR’s anniversary, you will have the opportunity to get in touch with FAR’s amazing world and history. FAR’s path has never been easy, however we all know that the lightest people are seen better in the darkest of times.
An interview with Valeria Ilareva
Valeria Ilareva, PhD, is the founder of Foundation for Access to Rights and one of the leading experts in asylum and migration law. Her path begins in 2001 when she becomes part of the Legal Clinic at the University of Sofia "St. Kliment Ohridski". Today, the name of Valeria Ilareva is synonymous with asylum and migration law in Bulgaria.
Ani: You stand in FAR’s heart, what is FAR for you?
Valeria: FAR is something I wake up and go to sleep with. I am always thinking of ways to get out work better, what more can we do and how to do it. Even when I am resting, I still come up with ideas for FAR.
Ani: How was the idea for FAR born?
Valeria: In 2001, while I was still a student at Sofia University’s Law Faculty, I became part of the Refugee Law Clinic. The Clinic was giving me the unique opportunity to directly work on refugees’ cases, to assist and accompany them wherever and whenever was needed. The work there allowed me to specialize in refugee and migration law. Along with other students, with whom we remain best friends, we fought for refugees in Bulgaria to have access to rights. Even then, while I was still a student, working on refugees’ cases, I clearly saw the difference between having rights in theory and having access to these rights in practice.
But then came the moment when I realized that I could no longer continue to be helpful at the legal clinic in my full capacity. That’s when we founded the Foundation – Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR). It’s founding happened very naturally. I was contemplating what was important in order to have solid foundation for access to rights. And by answering this question I wrote the Foundation’s Charter. In it I wrote that we provide free legal aid to vulnerable people and in cases that are evidence of systematic issues. I also wrote that we organize training courses for young professionals and conduct studies on access to rights and publish the findings, thus giving them publicity. All of this builds the foundation for access to rights and social justice.
Ani: Who are the people playing the key roles in FAR’s founding?
Valeria: The first person I immediately think of is prof. Blagoy Vidin. Thanks to him, I got acquainted and involved in refugee and migration law. Professor Vidin ran the Refugee Law Clinic and was a person who gave freedom to his students, allowing them to communicate and work directly with refugees. If he had not given us this freedom, I would not have loved this subject so much - refugee law. I am always grateful to him to this day.
Prior to the establishment of FAR, there were almost 10 years of experience in the field of refugee and migration law.
The biggest support for me has always been the people close to me - my husband Zahid, with whom we founded the Foundation for Access to Rights together, all the supporters, and many dear friends, from my years at the Legal Clinic.
Ani: FAR is turning 10 years old. As you have said for the anniversary ‘10 years of light in the world, so there is access to rights’. What has helped you to keep that light?
Valeria: I think it’s because I am a believer. I don’t do what I do in order to get gratitude, I do it because I love God.
Ani: For years FAR has been providing various trainings on refugee and migration law. How did the idea of such trainings come about and why are they so important?
Valeria: For me, sharing my knowledge means increasing the number of people who have the power to help. I give everything I know, including my experience, and I am happy when someone follows and applies it. I want people to get educated because in that way we can help even more refugees and migrants.
I truly love teaching. Maybe I inherited this skill from my mother, who is a teacher. I love to share and pass on my knowledge in a very accessible way.
I am happy that the best experts in refugee law in Bulgaria, and Bulgarian specialists around the world, have touched this subject with me. Or have had experience in it together with me. Thank God, I have not made them hate it, but I have helped them to love it.
Ani: With what feelings will you remember the Anniversary Training Program?
Valeria: I will remember it with the people: on the one hand, the students, and on the other hand, the ones teaching. I don't teach alone, we divide the lectures. I always admire the people who teach in our program. In addition to their knowledge, time, and experience, they put in, most of all, their heart.
Ani: At the time of FAR's founding, digitization was not as strong and widespread. It has helped make obtaining legal information and legal aid accessible to thousands of people. I am talking about the digital platform created by FAR - migrantlife.bg. How did the idea of creating it come about?
Valeria: As I already said, I love to share knowledge. It is very important for me to give comprehensive information to our beneficiaries. I realize how valuable it is to keep the people we help fully informed. This does not make them feel weaker, on the contrary, it helps them feel stronger. By giving them full access to their case information, we also give them the freedom to make informed choices. And freedom is very important in all aspects.
The idea for creating the digital information platform was connected to a call for project proposals by IRC - International Rescue Committee - in 2017.
Although we were a small team, the amount of work was not small at all. We had divided the writing of the project proposal between Magdalena Miteva, Denitsa Georgieva and me. Submitting the project proposal meant an extra workload and a lot of hard work. But we managed and the project proposal was approved.
At first we wrote the content of the platform for Bulgaria. After 2 years, due to the change of priorities of the funding body, the funding was withdrawn. At the same time, we were very keen to keep what we had created, putting in endless effort. The IRC representatives offered to hand over the content of the platform to us, and we, in turn, built our own site to transfer and develop it.
In the beginning the platform was called Refugeelife, then it turned into Migrantlife, as most of the content is relevant for both groups. Through these years, we managed not only to keep the website, but to broaden and develop it.
Ani: FAR 10 years ago and now, what is the difference?
Valeria: FAR’s impact is significantly greater, as is the number of the people we can help. I myself am now much more involved in administrative work rather than being a lawyer on the ground as I was before. However, as I have already stated the main difference is that we can now help many more people.
Ani: What would you wish to FAR and to yourself?
Valeria: I would wish myself health, so that I can continue doing what I love and do. To FAR I would wish to continue to be made of real people, as it had been so far. FAR is not neither offices, nor teams, FAR is mainly people who love what they are doing. As it says in the Bible – you may have a lot of gifts and talents, but if you don't have love, it's nothing.