Carle Illinois College of Medicine students are leading a human rights clinic to offer support to asylum seekers and refugees in east-central Illinois. The students are providing impartial medical and psychological evaluations and working to raise awareness on human rights issues.

Lidija Barbaric

The initiative is being led by fourth-year Carle Illinois medical student Lidija Barbaric. Her family immigrated from Bosnia and Herzegovina more than 30 years ago. “We came for medical purposes right before war broke out in our country in the early 90s,” she explained. “Had we not won the green card on a lottery, our lives would be on a completely different trajectory.”

Barbaric and her Carle Illinois medical student peers will be volunteering their time to run the human rights clinic, coordinate between case managers, legal personnel, social work, and translators, perform the evaluations, and ensure that the clients and their attorneys receive the documentation they need for their court cases.

“Individuals seeking asylum and other forms of documentation are often not heard or seen, but they are here in our community. There is a legitimate and true need for this type of work,” Barbaric said.

The Carle Illinois student interest group “Physicians for Human Rights” has partnered with the community health center Avicenna and resource centers for immigrants including The Refugee Center and The Immigration Project.  Avicenna is a local free clinic which provides healthcare to the uninsured and underinsured in the region. The human rights clinic, organized by Carle Illinois medical students, will fall under the umbrella of services offered at Avicenna.

Now, they are looking for physicians, resident physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and licensed clinical

psychologists to help.  “We are especially in need of physicians to support these efforts,” Barbaric said. The day-to-day operations of the clinic, including evaluations, will be run by Carle Illinois medical students. However, licensed professionals are needed to offer pro-bono assistance and mentorship.

“What people must realize is that when someone is displaced to another country, their status is temporary. They are living on borrowed time with no clue as to what shape their country will be in when and if the violence ends. The steps to maintain residence in safe havens, though necessary, are a very trying experience for someone already dealing with trauma,” Barbaric explained.

The Carle Illinois student interest group is also collaborating with experts at the College of Law at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Medical-legal partnership is a powerful union that serves to bring unbiased evidence to the courts so judges can make informed decisions regarding individuals fleeing unsafe conditions in their homelands.

Medical evaluations are just one step in the legal process to obtain asylum.  “While a medical evaluation is not required to obtain asylum, studies show cases that include one have a much higher success rate of being granted relief,” Barbaric explained.

Any clinician, but especially physicians, interested in joining can do so by filling out a Google form and/or by contacting the student group at hrcc.champaign@gmail.com. Once volunteers join and get training, the team would find a suitable case and the physician would work with the medical students to complete the evaluation.

“We understand the fear many immigrants have in seeking help and we want them to know that we truly hope to get our clinic running soon so that we can help them in their cases,” Barbaric said. “While borders serve a purpose and no one country can possibly bear the influx of everyone seeking refuge, this reality must be balanced with the humbled acknowledgment that no one chooses to be a refugee. People often have little choice when they must leave everything they know and love behind.”

Physicians for Human Rights is a national organization. The Carle Illinois “Physicians for Human Rights” student interest group is a satellite of the national organization aiming to gain broad experience with human rights issues in and beyond the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois area.

Evaluations will be conducted at Avicenna Community Health Center at their new location: 201 W. Kenyon Road in Champaign.

Media Contact:

Ryann Monahan, Carle Illinois College of Medicine Marketing and Communications, ryann@illinois.edu | 217-300-6658