The Legal Clinic for Refugees and Immigrants (LCRI) was founded in 1999 as one of four legal clinics at the Faculty of Law at Sofia University “St. Kilment Ohridsky” under a project sponsored by ABA CEELI and the Open Society Foundation. In 2003 it was registered as a non-profit association for public benefit under the name “Refugee Law Clinic Association”, and in 2006 the name was amended to reflect an extended scope of work and study, including significant focus on more general migration law.
The clinic is currently headed by its founder, Dr. Blagoy Vidin, professor in International Public Law at Sofia University “Saint Kliment Ohridsky” and Head of the Commission on Asylum at the Office of the President of Bulgaria. Professor Vidin also sits on the Clinic’s Board of Directors with Ms. Valeria Ilareva and Mr. Dinko Dinev.
From its earliest days, the Clinic has worked to establish and maintain active networks with other clinics in the region, perhaps most visibly through the framework of the LARC (Legal Assistance through Refugee Clinics) project, and in 2002 the Clinic was pleased to participate in a study visit exchange with one of the most impressive legal clinics in Europe, the Jagiellonian University Human Rights Centre in Krakow, Poland.
Students at the Clinic have demonstrated notable talent and proficiency through participation in a number LARC-organized ‘Annual Asylum Law International Moot Court Competitions’, at which their achievements in the field of refugee law education and argumentation have received international recognition and praise, including a First Place award and two awards of ‘Best Oralist’.
Between October 2003 and September 2005 the Clinic received Open Society Institute Sofia funding in order to realize the ‘Legal Aid for Refugees and Immigrants’ project, which continues to offer students practical experience in the provision of legal assistance and the preparation of cases, as well as performing the critical function of offering free legal aid to refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in Bulgaria.
During the winter of 2003-2004, the Clinic actively engaged in an intensive research project examining the jurisprudence of the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria in dealing with refugee cases. This collaborative international project was funded by the Allavida Foundation and resulted in the “Sofia – Bucurest Best Practices in Refugee Protection” analysis.
2004 saw the realization of the ‘University Course in Refugee Law’ project, funded by the Open Society Institute Sofia, through which the Clinic carried out Bulgaria’s first university course in refugee law at Sofia University “Saint Kliment Ohridsky”. These classes continue, and are taught by dedicated volunteers and Clinic staff.
Since 2006 the Clinic has participated in a joint project with the student-run UK-based refugee advocacy organization STAR (Student Action for Refugees). Through this project, a team of students representing the Clinic accepted an opportunity to visit refugees and immigration detention centers in the United Kingdom, and to participate in STARs annual National Conference. The study visit is sponsored by the Youth Program of the European Commission, the State Agency for Youth and Sports, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and Bulgarian law firm Georgiev, Todorov & Co.
In the late 2007, with the help of the Cedar Foundation, the Clinic has been able to hire two full-time staff, providing an unprecedented opportunity for the Clinic to strive towards greater ambitions, design and propose new and ingenuitive programs, provide greater and more wide-ranging legal support, and advance public awareness campaigns and outreach projects within Bulgaria and beyond.