Day in the Life of a VLA: Emma King

Office: Tanzania

Age: 25

Hometown: Letterkenny, Ireland

What type of law did you practice before volunteering with Asylum Access?

Prior to Asylum Access, I worked mainly in immigration and refugee law. I worked with an NGO called the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, then I did an internship with UNHCR and just before I moved to Tanzania, I worked with the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC), which is the refugee determining body in Ireland.

What made you volunteer as a VLA?

I was interested in working abroad and I am passionate about working directly with refugees and asylum seekers. Asylum Access provided the perfect opportunity to do direct client work while experiencing a new country.

Please describe a typical work day in Tanzania

My usual day consists of trying to get to the office early to avoid the hectic Dar traffic, then making a coffee and getting some freshly made local chipati for breakfast. I begin working on my existing clients’ cases, which may include writing letters, drafting appeals or conducting background research on countries of origin. If there are new clients, I’ll conduct an interview with them and discuss their reasons for fleeing their country of origin, their fears for returning and perhaps their current difficulties in Tanzania. Depending on what’s going on in the office I might also assist with some of our community legal empowerment programs or policy advocacy work. An enjoyable part of the day is having lunch with my colleagues outside under the banda (thatched roof).

Please describe a typical weekend day/day off or the ways you like to de-stress.

To de-stress, I like to go for a run or to the gym after work, and spend time with friends. During the weekend, I’ll usually go for dinner and drinks or head to the beach with my friends. Sometimes we’ll arrange trips outside of Dar es Salaam to see more of Tanzania.

What is your best memory of your Tanzania experience?

Without doubt, the best memory has been securing resettlement for one of our clients and then accompanying him to airport before he set off on his life-changing journey. The client, who was typically quiet and reserved, was the most excited and exuberant that I had ever seen him. He was immensely grateful to all the VLAs who helped him along the way.

What was your greatest accomplishment as a VLA?

As a Volunteer Legal Advocate, it can be difficult to see results for client cases since the refugee status determination process can take a long time. However, I did assist a young unaccompanied minor secure access to the process after working extensively on his application. I have also provided training on International Refugee Law, which was something I had never done before.

What do you see as the greatest challenge to asserting refugee rights in Tanzania

In my opinion, the current encampment policy in Tanzania is the biggest challenge for refugees’ ability to assert their rights. Most of the clients I see have strong claims for refugee status but they do not want to live in a refugee camp indefinitely, where they cannot work, live independently or with dignity. An urban refugee policy would go a long way in making refugee rights a reality in Tanzania.

How will this experience shape your future career plans/goals?

This experience has reaffirmed my desire to continue working in the area of refugee protection.

School Attended and Degrees Conferred

National University of Ireland, Galway: Law and English (Bachelor of Arts), LLB (Bachelor of Law), International Human Rights Law (LLM)