Primary job responsibilities:
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the United Nations agency with the responsibility to assist in the protection of refugees and asylum seekers around the globe. A central responsibility of the UNHCR Office in Washington, D.C., is to ensure that all refugees and individuals seeking asylum in the United States are provided the opportunity to receive the protection they need. One of the key ways this is done is through our UNHCR Protection Hotline, available toll-free to asylum-seekers and refugees in immigration detention anywhere in the United States, as well as to individuals outside of detention seeking assistance with asylum claims.
The principal responsibility of the Mennonite Volunteer will be to assist the UNHCR Washington office in providing assistance to asylum-seekers and refugees in the United States who contact the office, the majority of whom do so through our hotline from detention facilities, while others write letters or emails, and some who are not detained visit in person. Detained asylum-seekers face significant barriers because they often do not have access to legal assistance and their ability to interact with community organizations, family and friends is very limited. The Mennonite Volunteer will answer these calls, letters, and emails, inform asylum-seekers about the U.S. asylum system, and provide them with self-help materials, research on country of origin conditions, and information about non-profit legal services in their area. Sometimes this work allows for greater involvement in a particular case, such as responding to concerns about general detention conditions; violations of rights regarding the asylum procedure and issues concerning particularly vulnerable populations such as unaccompanied children, stateless individuals, and persons with mental health difficulties. The Mennonite Volunteer provides a necessary link between asylum-seekers and the rest of the U.S. Protection Unit staff and is relied upon to share any patterns or trends in the conditions and challenges faced by the detainees and the needs of asylum-seekers more generally.
The Mennonite Volunteer will also have the opportunity to be in contact with UNHCR field offices around the world and to conduct research on the human rights conditions in a number of countries. The Mennonite Volunteer will be able to observe asylum hearings in immigration court and to visit at least one or two detention centers.
After an introductory period in the position involving training, the Mennonite Volunteer will take on the added responsibility of supervising a team of interns and volunteers to assist in responding to the individual asylum-seekers requests for help. This supervisory role will include training the interns and volunteers, managing the distribution of assignments, and ensuring that information provided to the asylum-seekers is appropriate. When not directly assisting asylum-seekers, the Mennonite Volunteer will provide support to the other members of the U.S. Protection Unit. This work may include preparing for special meetings or attending events, such as Congressional Hearings.
The position at UNHCR provides a unique opportunity to interact with staff from around the globe, learn about and be given access to national and international agencies, provide services to some of the most vulnerable individuals in the world, and gain a better understanding of U.S. and international asylum law and refugee protection concerns.
Description of position:
The Mennonite Volunteer will interact on a daily basis with lawyers in the U.S. Protection Unit who will provide regular supervision. There will also be the opportunity to work more independently as the Mennonite Volunteer's skills and experience increase. The most challenging aspect of the position is interacting with asylum-seekers in detention, who do not have a lot of resources to navigate the U.S. asylum system. The Mennonite Volunteer will also interact with other sections of the office working on global, regional and domestic refugee issues. As such, the position is a unique opportunity to interact with staff from around the world, and to gain a deeper appreciation of the United Nations system, the U.S. asylum system and international refugee protection principles.
"Working with the US Protection Unit has been fantastic in so many ways. The ample opportunities to learn and grow in this position are augmented by the support and inspiration provided by my compassionate, brilliant colleagues. While the challenges of working with asylum seekers in detention can be intense, it is incredibly rewarding to have the chance to connect with such strong, resilient individuals and to contribute to the important work done on their behalf by UNHCR."
Emily Bender, MVS 2014-2016
The Mennonite Volunteer should have at least a Bachelor of Arts degree. Due to the language needs of the callers, the ability to speak Spanish is highly desirable, although not required.
The Mennonite Volunteer will receive ongoing training and education on UNHCR and its role internationally and in the United States, asylum law and the asylum system in the United States, and the core principles of refugee and asylum protection of UNHCR. The Mennonite Volunteer will also be able to attend meetings held in the office such as briefings from individuals visiting the United States from other UNHCR offices around the world, including the High Commissioner for Refugees. There will also be opportunities to attend special events, presentations and discussions about issues related to refugee protection in the United States and internationally, and some exposure to related issues of concern to other United Nations agencies.
The ideal volunteer will have a commitment to providing services to the disadvantaged, a commitment to human rights and refugee protection, and a strong interest in other cultures and languages. This person will be interested in working directly with individuals in need of information about asylum protection in the United States and will have excellent communication skills and patience. Keen analytical skills, excellent research and writing abilities and attention to detail are also important. A willingness to take initiative, to ask questions, and to learn by doing are all very valuable.