It has been a year since Farida Razaqi came to Buffalo from her native Afghanistan to study in UB Law’s master of laws program as a Fulbright Scholar. It has been a year of change and growth for her—and of great challenges in her country, now under Taliban rule.
"Coming to the U.S. to continue my studies as a Fulbright Scholar was a long-dreamed and hard-earned achievement for me," says Razaqi, who earned her LL.M. in environmental law from UB. "But I cannot find words to describe the hardship of the time I left the country. The Taliban had attacked my home province, and two weeks later, the government collapsed; a bitter and painful event. I still wish it was a nightmare and someone would wake me up".
Because of the time zone difference, she forfeited sleep to speak with her family and friends in Afghanistan. Many of her family members narrowly escaped with their lives in August 2021 when a suicide bomb exploded at the Kabul airport amid crowds trying to leave the country. Razaqi's family, having realized that passing through the crowd was impossible, especially for children, had just left the airport to return home. There were long, agonizing hours as Razaqi tried to reach them; finally, a text from her mother arrived.
Razaqi credits her professors and fellow students for helping her through that time. “I started my studies at UB while back in my home country, dreams were shattered, my homeland was bleeding, and so was my heart, but UB became my second home, and the UB community became my family. The amount of love and support I received from my professors, the law school, the UB leadership, and my friends never let me feel alone," she says.
Razaqi received her B.A. in law and political science in Afghanistan. She then served as a lecturer at Herat and Jami Universities. Prior to coming to Buffalo, she had been working as a legal expert with Afghanistan Legal Research and Development. Her focus has long been on environmental law and politics. She says, "Afghanistan is so much suffering from environmental degradation and the severe impacts of climate change as well as ongoing conflicts on transboundary water resources with neighboring countries."
As part of her LL.M. program, she participated in the Environmental Advocacy Clinic, where she worked on multiple environmental matters and earned praise from clients for her work. She describes it as "the best experience I could ever ask for." She adds, "Working with the actual clients on real cases as a student attorney gave me first-hand knowledge of environmental law and deepened my understanding of the complexities of relevant cases."
Razaqi's LL.M. thesis was titled How Transboundary Water Conflicts Redefine Geopolitics in Climate Change Era; Lessons from Afghanistan and the U.S. Borders. Her work explores how water resource disputes across borders might evolve into worldwide conflict, how the new geopolitical order affects not just the stability of specific areas but the whole globe, and possible avenues for moving away from confrontational hydro politics and toward true water diplomacy.
After her graduation this past May, she joined the law school’s clinical program as a program specialist for cultural and international issues, doing research and presenting on transboundary water conflicts as well as climate justice. She also works directly with most of the law school's clinic classes, presenting lectures on cultural competence and providing direct support for international work in the Environmental Advocacy Clinic.
"Farida was a fantastic student, despite the trauma she endured upon departing her homeland and watching the anguish her family and friends were enduring from afar," says Professor Kim Diana Connolly, vice dean for advocacy and experiential education and director of the Clinical Legal Education program. "The student attorneys, staff, faculty, and clients of #UBLawResponds clinics are fortunate to have added her to our staff for this academic year. Farida has already begun sharing both deep expertise and relevant life experiences, and with the new school year beginning, we know she will bring even more talent and sagacity to our program."
And she's started her new role strong. She has already organized a well-attended virtual webinar in celebration of World Natural Resources Conservation Day. Organized in conjunction with Niagara University Justice House Program, where she works as environmental justice fellow, the panel included Razaqi; Prof. Connolly; practitioner Stephanie Adams '99; and Idrees Malyar, a former high-level Afghan government official who is now pursuing doctoral studies at Oregon State University and the panel moderator, Prof. Kevin A. Hinkley, J.D., from Niagara University's political science department.
She recently represented the law school at a meeting with a visiting delegation of counterterrorism experts from Iraq hosted by the International Institute of Buffalo, where she presented on "The Impact of Legal Frameworks Used to Combat Terrorism on Civil/Human Rights and Other Freedoms." In her presentation, she addressed issues she has thought about since she was an undergraduate, which are part of her research agenda - the relationship between environmental problems and terrorism, particularly the emergence and strengthening of violent groups.
As it is with her country, Raziqi works on adjusting her plans to chase her dreams. "Afghanistan is greatly suffering from the lack of expertise in every aspect of environmental challenges, which even got worse after the collapse of the government," she says. "Initially, my plan was to pursue my studies here, gain the necessary skills and knowledge, and then go back to my country to utilize them in bringing meaningful changes in this field. Unfortunately, considering all the restrictions, especially for women, I cannot return if the conditions continue in the same way. But, giving up is not an option for me because there is always a way to follow your goals even from a distance, and this is what I plan to do."