North­eastern senior Brendan Rigby’s co-​​op helping per­se­cuted Iraqi refugees seek reset­tle­ment in the United States was more than experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­nity; it affirmed his com­mit­ment to public service.

The polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs dual major recently spent six months working at St. Andrew’s Refugee Ser­vices in Cairo, Egypt. The expe­ri­ence so inspired him that he plans to return to the legal clinic upon grad­u­a­tion this spring.

There are people who need help out there, and to ignore them seems uncon­scionable,” said Rigby, who plans to attend law school in the fall. “Even the most des­perate people in the United States usu­ally have access to more and better ser­vices than refugees do.”

St. Andrew’s pro­vides pro­gram­ming for refugees in 32 coun­tries around the world, including Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. Over the course of Rigby’s co-​​op, he lis­tened to the sto­ries of many Iraqi refugees who, because they had coop­er­ated with Amer­i­cans, had been forced out of their home country by mem­bers of Iraqi militias.

They have a bull’s-eye on their back that reads, ‘Made in the USA,’” said Rigby.

Many of the refugees reported being threat­ened, kid­napped, beaten, raped, or electrocuted—traumatic events that change a person for­ever, said Rigby. Fearing for their lives, they fled to Egypt in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Once they reached Egypt, many encounter sig­nif­i­cant dis­crim­i­na­tion. “Some [Egyptian cit­i­zens] view them as unwel­come inter­fer­ence in the labor market,” explained Rigby. “And meeting [the refugees’] needs is a chal­lenge for Egypt’s infrastructure.”

Rigby’s con­vic­tion that the United States has a moral oblig­a­tion to help refugees fueled his work at St. Andrew’s. He wrote a suc­cessful grant pro­posal to a Euro­pean orga­ni­za­tion that funds human rights ini­tia­tives in the region. He helped pre­pare reset­tle­ment doc­u­ments on behalf of his clients and trained them for their reset­tle­ment inter­views with Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity agents. And he assisted Sudanese asylum-​​seekers— many who were poor, single mothers lacking the resources to pro­tect their chil­dren or take care of their own med­ical needs.

For Rigby, living and working in Egypt broad­ened his cul­tural per­spec­tive and made him ques­tion his own pre­con­ceived notions. “I had a vision for what Egypt would be like,” he said. “But you go there and you realize that all the strange, sim­plistic con­cep­tions you had are hollow.”