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2019 Summer Interns

The Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill was established by Garvin Brown (BA'91) in honour of his mother, Susan Casey Brown.Administered through the Dean’s Office in conjunction with the Faculty of Arts Internship Office, this award is meant to provide partial funding to assist students with travel and other expenses related to their international internship. The Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill is part of the McGill International Experience Awards. For more information, click here.

The Internship Offices Network is pleased to announce the selected McGill students for the 2019 summer internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ecuador, and the recipients of the Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill, Agnes Bouchet and Julia Tomasso, and the recipient of the McGill Undergraduate Internship Fund, Arthur Scalabrini.

Agnes Bouchet, MA Political Science

Agnes is a second year graduate student in political science, international development option, with a focus in international security. This summer she will be interning at the UNHCR in Quito, Ecuador, with the Livelihoods Unit. She will be supporting the Senior Durable Solutions Associate in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Livelihoods strategy geared towards refugees. Agnes is excited to learn from and contribute to this project.

***

During my stay in Quito, I was able to get a firsthand experience at how the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) operates and collaborates with government and non-governmental organizations to pursue the establishment of universal human rights and the economic inclusion of people of concern. I also discovered an amazing country, full of richness in its diversity of landscapes and savors to taste, and was lucky enough to meet wonderful friends to share it all with. I would truly like to thank Mr. Garvin Brown, the Susan Casey Brown Fund and the McGill International Experience Awards for this amazing opportunity to learn and grow.

The UNHCR is worldwide agency which seeks to redress the wrongs refugees, stateless people, asylum seekers, returnees, and internally displaced people face daily, in cooperation with national governments and other institutions. Ecuador is a leading example in Latin America right now, having the largest recognized population of refugees and having passed the Organic Law on Human Mobility in 2017, a clear and strong legislative tool to defend people of concern’s human and economic rights. Working in the Livelihoods Unit was particularly thriving for me, since I had graduated from a first class Joint Honors in Political Science and International Development Studies bachelor degree and have pursued these studies as a master student. The impact states have on their citizens and non-citizens’ enjoyment of human rights during times of war, conflicts or domestic turmoil, and looking into how to answer the many challenges which arise immediately or for many years afterwards, is a particularly strong focus of mine. Therefore, learning how the UNHCR’s National Livelihoods Unit designs strategies to economically include people of concern through collaboration with the private and public sphere in order to restore people’s self-sufficiency was incredible for me.

During my internship I was very grateful for the opportunity to participate in a number of meetings between the UNHCR and certain of its social implementers, like HIAS and FUDELA, or meetings with the government, in particular the ministry of labor, the ministry of economic and social inclusion, and the municipality of Quito, or other UN agencies like the United Nations Development Program. During these meetings, axes of progression were discussed, solutions elaborated, and best practices regarding certain projects were established. Some of my main tasks during the internship were: the development of project evaluation and monitoring documents; the national systematization of qualitative data from the UNHCR’s field offices regarding the current challenges to economic inclusion; draft and review parts of a project proposal with a foreign government regarding the northern border between Ecuador and Columbia; and research and map local social entrepreneurs that the UNHCR could work with to launch an Ecuadorian line of the UNHCR’s Made51 project. I was particularly thrilled by the Made51 project, whose concept is to make refugee made products reach the international market through joint work with Ecuadorian social entrepreneurs.

I also attended several graduations, from people of concern, after they participated in the various projects I was evaluating, and was able to interview three of them in Spanish in order to share their successful stories in a publication. My Spanish level greatly improved throughout my stay, which is also an asset I am very grateful for. Since many of the obstacles people of concern face when it comes to economic inclusion comes from ignorance and discrimination, I particularly enjoyed a forum which the UNHCR organized, in which private companies and the government participated in order to communicate on challenges regarding the economic inclusion of people of concern and bring down crucial misconceptions about their right to work.

The highlight of my internship has to come from the environment I was working in. My team was very kind and helpful, and as the months went by I came to know everyone in the office. I was lucky enough to have people come to my desk to request services at times, and accompany various members on their day missions on the field. As such, I was able to laugh with and befriend people who were participating in the programs as I took my first ever cooking class with them, and we played soccer. During the LGBTQ+ march and their graduation I was very happy to see them again, and chant, dance, and share a good time.

Seeing how the UNHCR works, on many different levels, really helped me understand more in depth the challenges and capacities an agency can have in a country to redress human rights abuses. Moving forward, I know what type of professional experience I am looking for next, and am glad to have a more realistic and enriched perspective on my career prospects. In truth, I am amazingly happy that I have had the opportunity to live this adventure in Ecuador and would like to thank you, Mr. Garvin Brown, the Susan Casey Brown Fund and McGill International Experience Awards, from the bottom of my heart for allowing it to happen!

Agnes Bouchet during her internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quito, Ecuador.

 


Julia Tomasso, BA Political Science and World Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies

Julia is pursuing a double major in political science and world Islamic studies with a minor in gender studies in the Faculty of Arts. This summer she will be interning with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quito, Ecuador. She will assist the protection team with individual case management and identify eventual cases for the refugee population's resettlement. Julia hopes that this experience will confirm her desire to work with refugees in Iran as well as understand the span of issues, from local to global, that the refugee crisis encompasses.

***

I am a Political Science and World Islamic Studies student. I am hoping to pursue a Masters in Refugees, Forced Migration, and Displacement as I believe that the issue of refugees today has turned into a critical, socio-political and internationally-charged phenomenon. Therefore, I am extremely grateful for the Susan Casey Brown Fund and the McGill International Experience Awards which has given me the amazing opportunity to pursue an internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quito, Ecuador.

My objectives

To rewind a few steps back, I have always been interested in the domain of human rights advocacy and forced migration, and more specifically the protection of refugee rights in the Middle East. Why the Middle East? The complex history of refugees in Iran sparked my interest since I began studying the Middle East at McGill. ​Given this trajectory, applying for the UNHCR seemed only right.

The UNHCR in Ecuador

Ecuador has historically been a refugee-hosting country possessing some of the most progressive migration and asylum laws in the region. The UNHCR in Ecuador is dedicated to ensuring the protection of refugees, ​forcibly displaced communities and stateless people as well as assisting them in seeking permanent solutions. In its efforts to achieve this objective, UNHCR Ecuador works in partnership with governments, regional organizations, international and non-governmental organizations.

A few years ago, the majority of refugees seeking help from the UNHCR in Ecuador were Colombians, fleeing their country´s enduring civil war with the FARC. However, the trend recently changed with Venezuela’s tremendous human-made humanitarian crisis. The country’s woes have indeed caused a mass exodus of its people; today regarded as the largest exodus in the recent history of Latin America. Thus neighboring Ecuador bore the brunt of the exodus with almost 1 million refugees admitted to the country in 2018.

A Protection and Livelihoods Intern

My internship started off within the Protection unit, identifying potential cases for resettlement, guaranteeing the protection of the refugees’ rights and working alongside UN partners to help their local integration in Ecuador. The position entailed conducting “protection interviews” in order to identify the refugees’ needs and help them with the legal procedure to obtain a visa in Ecuador. I was responsible for collecting and transcribing information into weekly reports to the UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva. As a Protection intern, I gained both eye-opening experience and valuable insight by working directly with refugees.

After a few weeks, I was asked to assume another position on top of the Protection one: Livelihoods intern within the Protection team. The Livelihoods position truly gave me a better economic insight into the local integration of refugees in Quito as well as more opportunity for field experience. I was also in charge of the project “Coursera for Refugees,” allowing refugees to follow free online courses in order to facilitate their integration in the labor market. Working in two different units was definitely challenging but one completed the other.

My Experience

The main highlight of my internship was definitely engaging in the program A GANAR dedicated to the entrepreneurship of young refugees. ​The program was eye-opening in terms of pedagogy and efficiency. Indeed, it combined university classes (​management, sales, finance) ​with life lessons and soft skills taught through the medium of sports. A GANAR was offered to refugees and local Ecuadorians aged 15-25 for 3 months. I helped in raising awareness about the UNHCR’s action, monitored some activities, and independently presented the program to an NGO, ​providing feedback and recommendations for the next year’s A GANAR.

I believe my experience within the UNHCR enabled me to take initiative but also how to manage pressure to work efficiently. Working within the Protection unit was challenging and stressful as I was in direct contact with refugees. Yet I was inspired daily by both the resilience and dedication of those with whom I worked. Listening​ to the refugees’ lives every day is difficult emotionally; some cases are harder than others. However, throughout the internship, I was able to develop a “thick skin” and accept the frustration of sometimes not being able to do anything.

More generally, I broadened my knowledge and understanding of human rights issues. As part of the organization, I was also more aware of communication and advocacy campaigns and how it is coordinated from a local to a global level. 

I left this experience with a deeper understanding of the refugee crisis in Latin America and a more specific idea of what I want to study for my Masters. Again, this opportunity would not have been possible for me without the generous funding from Suzan Casey Brown.

Julia Tomasso at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quito

 


Arthur Scalabrini, BCL/LLB

Arthur is a first year law student with a strong interest in human rights. This summer he will intern for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quito, Ecuador. He will support their resettlement unit that determines the refugees that are eligible for resettlement in third party countries. Arthur is hoping to get a first-hand knowledge regarding international refugee law and its application in the South-American context.

***

I am writing this report to thank the McGill International Experience Awards for the generous contribution. The award enabled me to complete an enriching internship at the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Quito, Ecuador during the summer of 2019.

I applied to this internship because, during my undergraduate studies, my interest grew for human rights related issues through classes and internships in this field. Then, coming into my first year of law school, I had the opportunity to volunteer for the International Refugee Assistance Project, an organization that provides legal assistance to asylum claimants. As a result, I was curious to explore international refugee law in a professional setting. I believed that an internship with the United Nations would provide this opportunity and enable me to discover the workings of an international organization.

The UNCHR is an organ of the United Nations with the mandate to protect refugees, returnees, international displaced persons, stateless persons and asylum seekers. In Ecuador, the UNHCR assists people displaced from, for the most part, Colombia and, to a lesser but increasing degree, Venezuela.

My internship took place within the resettlement unit. This unit conducts interviews with displaced people to determine if state representatives from countries like Canada, New Zealand, or the United-States can accept them for resettlement on their territory. During my internship, I drafted several portions of resettlement forms, such as the summary of the persecution of the claimant, the legal analysis of the case, and the country-of-origin information. State representatives use this form, along with their own interviews with claimants, to determine eligibility for resettlement. I also observed and assisted UNHCR caseworkers during resettlement interviews.

One of the highlight of my experience was a demonstration by asylum-seekers and refugees in front of the UNHCR office for several weeks. Displaced people from Colombia and Venezuela face various forms of discrimination in the Ecuadorian society. Landlords refuse to rent to them. Employers refuse to hire them. These difficult conditions were certainly a factors in pushing them to demonstrate in front of the office building for many weeks. It was then interesting to see how the UNHCR dealt with this situation, which was exceptional in the history of the organization in Ecuador. Indeed, after the beginning of the protest, a game of public relation ensued with media reporting on the demands of the protesters and the response of the UNHCR. Interestingly, those demands often showed a profound misunderstanding of the role of the UNHCR and the functioning of international protection. I believe that this reflected the extent to which refugees are uneducated about their rights, sometimes expecting too little, sometimes too much. The police eventually intervened to remove the protestors. In sum, I found this “crisis” very insightful in understanding the situation of refugees in Ecuador and the public relation side of international humanitarian organizations.

My academic background was extremely useful to fulfil my duties. The classes I took during my undergraduate degree had provided me with a good understanding of international refugee law and international human rights law. Furthermore, my first year of law school provided me a basis to write effective legal analyses. Although I am not sure whether I want to pursue a career in the field of refugee law, I now have a more sensible outlook regarding what international civil servants can achieve by working in an international organization like the UNHCR. Moreover, I am certain that the knowledge I acquired will be transferable to other work environments no matter where I decide to head.

I would like to thank the McGill International Experience Awards once again and I hope some other students will have the chance to take part in this internship in the future.

Arthur next to the UNHCR logo and flag

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