Internship Experience @ UNHCR Field Office, Chennai: Research on Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in India

Intern Details

Name: Salomi Christie

Name of College: School of Excellence in Law

5th Year, BA. BL (Hons.)

Duration of Internship

May 2015 – August 2015

I interned at the UNHCR Field Office at Chennai from 15 May, 2015 to 15 August, 2015.

I initially applied for two months but extended it for an extra month because I loved my job and luckily enough, my college reopened quite late.

Application Procedure

The process of application was very difficult in the beginning because any applications first went through the Delhi office. I received a reply from the Chennai office’s e-mail id, one fine day, inviting me for an interview at the office.

At the interview, I was terrified because I knew the opportunity was a big one and I was afraid that if I made even one tiny mistake, I might blow away my chances at work experience from the United Nations.

But the moment I walked in, I regained my confidence merely through a handshake with the Associate Repatriation Officer (ARO) and the Finance Officer who were my interviewers. They were very warm and I instantly felt at home.

We sat down for a short discussion about why I wanted to join. After about 15 minutes, I left and I received the acceptance mail within the week itself. I was overjoyed and eager to start.

My Experience

One great thing about the office was that the number of office staff being just about 7, the group was close knit and I felt like I was a part of them from Day 1 itself.

The Facilitator was a very friendly presence. She guided me from the beginning to the end and now remains a colleague I look up to, because of her dedication to her job.

Since I joined along with two other interns, it was decided that we each would perform one particular task of the three tasks which we had to perform overall in the internship.

These tasks were –

1. Updating the database of refugees who had repatriated voluntarily and/or had spontaneously returned to their country of origin without UNHCR assistance.

2. Preparing country of origin information about Sri Lanka, which would be disseminated among the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India, who had expressed a wish to voluntarily go back to Sri Lanka with UNHCR assistance.

3. Research on legal judgments and judicial trends regarding Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India and a summary of the same.

I performed each of the three tasks throughout the internship for the first two months. At first I had never thought they would treat interns like members of their staff.

I definitely didn’t think I would get to do important work which was useful for the office’s functioning. Fortunately, I was proved wrong on both counts.

The database was an eye opener. I realized how technology made all the relevant procedures a lot more simpler.

For research, I compiled a report about Turkey’s role as the largest host of refugees in 2015 and another report which was a summary of Government Orders passed by the Tamil Nadu government, regarding refugees.

The most tedious of the tasks was the compilation of country of origin information about Sri Lanka.

Since resources were somewhat limited to the news media and the internet, I understood the qualms of empirical research especially the fact that news media may, more often than not, be inaccurate and misleading.

ARO Sir was a great source of knowledge and guidance as he was always very open to questions and took out the time to clarify them while also being very encouraging and supportive at all times. It was a pleasure to work for him.

After the first two months, I spoke to Sir about an extension and he agreed. This was a blessing because during the extended period, I got to work on organizing UNHCR Chennai’s first World Refugee Day event. The event happened at The Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, Chennai.

We invited refugees living and studying or working in Chennai to share their experiences. The event was attended by Consul Generals of US, Germany, Australia etc. and other Central and State government officials.

I learnt the importance of maintaining official protocol and how to address dignitaries. It was a great experience.

Best Things

The best part was working with a team of dedicated volunteers who made the event a grand success. The entire event now remains one of the best memories of my life.

The highlight of the entire internship was of course the times I met the UNHCR Chief of Mission to India – Mr. William Tall and his Deputy Chief.

I had the opportunity of interacting with them one-on-one and it was a very enlightening experience because both of them were very accommodating and answered my questions very frankly.

What impressed me the most was the way they, in their respective positions with so much experience, treated me like a colleague  rather than just as an intern. Their insights were helpful in me making my decision to work towards a career in the United Nations.

Towards the end of the internship period, since I loved the work I did, I began to research about UN careers. The Facilitator and ARO Sir provided me with information as well. It helped me to figure out the kind of path I wish my future to take, career wise.

Conclusion

In conclusion, both my internships were downright amazing because both of them involved an amazing group of people working towards causes like education, social welfare, human rights etc.

My natural alignment to such causes helped me to do my best while I was at work and my mentors’ constant support and guidance has helped me to grow professionally as well as personally.

This entry has been submitted for the LexisNexis-Lawctopus Internship Experience Writing Competition 2015-2016. iPleaders is the learning partner for this competition.

 

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