Day in the Life of a VLA: Louise Collewet

Published November 2012

Name: Louise Collewet

Office: Thailand

Age: 25

Hometown: Bergues, France

What made you volunteer as a VLA?

I was already practicing refugee law and also immigration law. I wanted to volunteer abroad to discover another culture and to make myself useful by helping persons in need. A volunteer opportunity with Asylum Access was exactly what I was looking for, as I was especially interested in helping asylum seekers. I also knew that I wanted to continue working in this area in future.

What was your greatest accomplishment as a VLA?

I wrote an appeal for a Congolese woman, whose application for refugee status had been rejected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Bangkok. Her case was very difficult, and I encouraged her to contact some people in her country to obtain testimonies critical to proving her case. She eventually obtained refugee status, and I believe that the work we did really influenced this decision.

What was the greatest personal challenge you faced as a VLA?

The greatest challenge I faced is that, as we had lots of clients and lots of work, I had to prioritize a lot. I also often felt that I did not have enough time for each client. I also sometimes felt that, despite our work, we did not have a big impact on UNHCR’s decisions.

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

Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Therefore, even refugees recognized by UNHCR are considered by the Thai authorities as illegal immigrants, and are subject to arrest and indefinite detention.

Describe a typical workday in Thailand.

I did not do exactly the same things every day. Roughly three times a week, I had interviews with clients to learn about their stories, the reasons why they had to leave their home countries and why they were unable to return. These interviews took often two to three hours each. In the remaining time, I drafted testimonies for clients to seek refugee status, conducted background research on their countries of origin to include in their case and worked on appeals and legal briefs. Once a week, we also had a legal team meeting to discuss our cases and work.

Tell a story about a language barrier or cultural difference.

We had one client who only spoke the dialect of her tribe. We did not have any interpreter in this language. Therefore, to work with her, we had to use her husband as an interpreter, which was probably not the best way to enable her to express everything she wanted to.

What is your best memory of your experience in Thailand and what would you normally do on the weekend?

My best memory is when my first client who got refugee status came to our office to inform us. I suddenly felt very useful! During the week, I would often had dinner together after work with my colleagues, and it was a very good way to de-stress! I often left Bangkok on the weekends, to visit the other parts of Thailand. When I stayed in Bangkok, I spent time with my friends, going out and discovering the city.

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

This experience reinforced my wish to work with asylum seekers and refugees and to fight for their rights.

Schools Attended and Degrees Conferred:

University of Paris 2 (France) – Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.
University of Warwick (United Kingdom) – First year of a Master’s Degree in Public Law, as part of an Erasmus international exchange.
University of Lille 2 (France) – Bachelor Degree in Law.

Interview conducted by AAT Communications Liason and VLA Jintana Sakulborirak