Notes from Geneva

Dear Friends,

2011 has been a year of exciting growth and change in Asylum Access. All four of our offices are settled into great offices spaces, and our permanent leadership staff has grown by leaps and bounds. In San Francisco, we recently welcomed Erik Schnabel as our Development Director, and I took over the role of Global Policy Manager. Mike Kagan, our long-time Policy Director, has joined the faculty of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law, but will continue working with us on a consultative basis.

In my first month as Global Policy Manager, I had the opportunity to travel to Geneva for the annual Asylum Access leadership training, and for UNHCR’s Annual Consultations with NGOs—one of our most important policy advocacy opportunities every year. For me, the highlight of the trip was the opportunity to meet the incredible staff who lead our operations in Ecuador, Thailand and Tanzania. I can say with authority that our Country Directors—Medhapan Sundaradeja, Karina Sarmiento and Janemary Ruhundwa—are talented and determined advocates, whose kindness and sense of humor is only surpassed by their detailed understanding of the legal and political contexts for refugees their home countries.

On June 24 we kicked off our 3-day leadership training at the Graduate Institute of Geneva with a lunch-time panel discussion in which Janemary, Karina and Michael Timmins (AAT Legal Services Manager) described the context of working in their country to an engaged crowd of migration researchers and academics. The trainings included sessions on advanced refugee law, community legal education, human resources strategies, story-telling for advocates, client focus groups in Ecuador, negotiations techniques and policy strategy planning.

Janemary, who has been leading our work in Tanzania, told us about the slow but steady progress in advancing refugee rights in a country where refugees may only legally reside in camps. Where there was once only resistance and hostility, we have initiated a working relationship with government officials and recently had a very productive meeting with the chief of the Refugee Department in the Ministry of Home Affairs. We have also recently formed a coalition of human rights organizations to advocate for improved rights for refugees in Tanzania. Asylum Access Tanzania’s growth over the past few years has reaffirmed our belief that there is not only a great need for our work but a way forward even in difficult circumstances.

Following this, the UNHCR Annual Consultations were a week-long blur of meetings, conference sessions and networking events. Asylum Access began the week by chairing the Southern Refugee Legal Aid Network Annual Meeting, where we encouraged members to break into thematic groups that brought advocates from multiple continents together to collaborate on common concerns. We also organized a Side Session on strengthening national RSD systems with Karina speaking about the strengths and weaknesses of the Ecuadorian refugee status determination system. Throughout the week, we engaged with UNHCR officials on policy concerns, attended conference sessions, and met with advocates from other organizations.

Among a larger community of colleagues, we were able to learn from each other, encourage one another and discuss best strategies for advancing the global refugee rights movement. Although my first month on the job was a whirlwind, I am incredibly thankful to have started off in my position knowing for a fact that I work with some amazing people who accomplish change for refugees every day.

Armed with the knowledge and experience from my peers, I am excited to begin my new role at Asylum Access and look forward to adding my voice to yours in our movement for refugee rights.


Published August 2011