To use innovative methods to strengthen the protection landscape and fuel systemic change for forced migrants and refugees, particularly women and children, and to operate as a centre for law and policy.
M.A.P, formerly known as Ara Legal Initiative, was started as The Ara Trust’s pilot programme on February 20, 2013. It was set up primarily to introduce the concept of legal representation in UNHCR’s asylum process and to ensure that every refugee in India was able to realise their right to legal assistance. The idea was to make the system more transparent and accountable and thereby bring them in line with India’s democratic ethos.
The initiative was conceived by Roshni Shanker, the organisation’s founder, when she was working as a lawyer with UNHCR’s field offices, assessing asylum claims from conflict-affected countries. It was during this time that she came across some of the most inspiring stories of human spirit and endurance in the face of insurmountable hurdles. She gained intimate knowledge of what it was to rebuild one’s life in an alien land without knowing the local language and not being able to fall back on familiar support systems.
Roshni also realised that traditional humanitarian interventions often fail to recognise legal assistance as being fundamental to refugees’ post-conflict recovery and rehabilitation. In addition, given that the overwhelming majority of refugees are women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by conflict and remain highly vulnerable even in the country of asylum, she identified the need for specially tailored assistance for this population. She however understood that these gaps can be better addressed at grassroots level by organisations familiar with the local context. Since India had no such independent organisation at the time, Roshni decided to leave the UN and returned to start M.A.P.
Today, M.A.P is one of the foremost advocates for refugees in the region and uses the law as an effective tool to expand the legal protection space for this group. It continues to evolve as an organisation constantly innovating to address the growing needs of this population in light of the local and international context. For example, in the background of India’s move towards an inclusive economic order, M.A.P is the first organisation to run an initiative to assimilate refugees within this new financial landscape.
Since 2013, M.A.P has grown from a 2-member outfit working in borrowed spaces to now a team of 10 operating from a dedicated office space in New Delhi. In the coming years, M.A.P will strive to build on its success to position itself globally as a leading voice in refugee protection.
- M.A.P is the first organisation in the South Asia to have a Letter of Understanding with UNHCR which introduced the concept of legal representation in asylum process. This institutionalised the right of every refugee to have legal counsel in the process. Since inception, M.A.P has provided direct legal assistance to nearly 2000 asylum-seekers. In 2016, M.A.P’s model was recognised by UNHCR HQ as a best practice for replication in its other operations.
- M.A.P’s work has resulted in the infusion of Rule of Law principles in UNHCR’s asylum process making it more transparent and accountable through successive ameliorations such as reasoned rejections and presence of lawyers during asylum interviews.
- In 2015, M.A.P became the first organisation to work with a sitting M.P to draft a domestic asylum law, which was the first such bill introduced in Parliament as a private members bill.
- In 2017, M.A.P successfully executed a first-of-its-kind project to legally empower refugee women by informing them about their rights under India’s anti-SGBV laws. The information material generated under the project have now been shared with UNHCR and its partners for wider dissemination.
- M.A.P is the first organisation to work towards the financial inclusion of refugees in India through its pioneering project which aims to give them access to basic banking and financial services.