Last week, Emily Arnold-Fernández '99 was honored with the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize for her work with Asylum Access. Arnold-Fernández is the founder and executive director of the organization, which is dedicated to making refugee rights a reality in the first country of refuge.
The award "honors individuals under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment, and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change. Each prize carries an award of $100,000, half to the winning individual(s) and half to an organization committed to the winner's area of social justice."
Arnold-Fernández founded Asylum Access in 2005, with other refugee rights activists. The organization's innovative model helps individual refugees respond to rights violations while transforming the human rights landscape for entire refugee populations. To accomplish these goals it uses four integrated tools: individualized legal assistance, community legal empowerment, policy advocacy and strategic litigation.
Since most refugees first land in countries near their home, Asylum Access focuses on refugees in Africa, Asia and Latin America. With offices in Ecuador, Thailand and Tanzania, the organization provides direct legal assistance and education reaching more than 10,000 refugees per year.
Since its founding, Asylum Access has impacted more than 1,000,000 refugees through successful policy advocacy and strategic litigation efforts. In Ecuador, they successfully advocated for the inclusion of refugee rights in the Ecuadorian constitution, allowing the country's 250,000 refugees to lawfully work. In Thailand, the organization advocated for refugee rights to be included in draft amendments to the Immigration Act, now due before parliament. If passed into law, this would be the country's first refugee law. In Tanzania, Asylum Access' legal advocates secured the unprecedented recognition of the urban refugee population.
Arnold-Fernández, who majored in philosophy and music as a Pomona student, received Pomona's Inspirational Young Alumna Award in 2006.