Internship Spotlight: Sebastian Oudin-Filipecki

As an incoming fourth-year student studying political science and psychology, being able to intern at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was for me a unique opportunity to work in an intellectually stimulating and multicultural environment while getting a grasp of human right advocacy and humanitarian work in action. The UNHCR is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. The organization has offices and teams in the field in over 125 countries and actively works to find durable solutions to the plight of refugees. Having a keen interest in human rights advocacy, peacebuilding and conflict resolution since a young aged, experiencing what it was to work for the United Nations was almost a dream come true.

As a protection intern my duties were to support the Protection Unit with a variety of tasks including: conducting research on international refugee law and international human rights law, preparing internal reports, compiling and analyzing statistics, translating several documents from English to French and accompanying my supervisors to several events. For example, I observed several hearings in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board in order to monitor the effectiveness of the Canadian asylum system and its compliance with the Canada’s obligations under international law. Additionally, my colleagues and I gave several presentations to asylum seekers in order to provide them with information about the asylum seeking process in Canada and explain what to expect once they day of their hearing in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board. Lastly, I also accompanied UNHCR’s Representative in Canada, Mr. Jean-Nicolas Beuze when he testified in front of the Quebec National Assembly as part of the parliamentary hearings into the province's immigration plan.

In addition, I will be enrolling in the internship in political science course (POLI 599) next fall in order to gain academic credit for my internship. The topic of my research would be to take a critical look at the effectiveness of the Canadian asylum system by analyzing its successes, failures and shortcomings since 1976. More specifically, my paper will aim at tracking Canada's compliance under international human right law (most specifically refugee law) and analyze what have been the policy changes (proposed or carried by the successive governments) and why these changes have been taking place. Professor Rex J. Brynen, from the Department of Political Science, has kindly agreed to be my academic supervisor for this research project.

Furthermore, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. and Mrs. Darlington for their generous scholarship. Receiving 3,500$ in the form of the Carol & Lloyd Darlington Arts Internship Award was of extremely helpful in order to offset the expenses associated with my internship.

Starting this internship, I was eager to gain a more global perspective on the current challenges the world is currently facing, especially in the field of human rights. Given rise of populist discourse, xenophobia and the polarization of public discourse around refugees and migrants in general, I was excited to be able to do more to help protect refugees and ensure their rights were protected, especially as more and more states shirking their responsibilities under international law. As my internship comes to an end, I can say with certainty that, as a prospective law school student, being place with UNHCR’s Protection Unit in Montreal only strengthen my desire is to study international human right law and pursue a career at the UN or in the non-governmental sector. While working within the UN system was a challenging experience and has made me more alarmed than ever about the state of human rights worldwide, it was an unbelievably rewarding and rich experience. To quote former Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk: “preserving human dignity calls upon us to draw upon our diversity and richness to imagine larger freedoms that can be secured through vigilance and common action.”

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