Refugee Rights Leadership Training 2014

Asylum Access, together with the University of York, held a Refugee Rights Leadership Training in Geneva, from June 13 to 15, just prior to UNHCR’s Annual Consultations with NGOs.

Thirty-six participants from 23 different countries and NGO, academic, government and UNHCR backgrounds took part in three days of stimulating discussions and workshops on topics as diverse as ethics, rights-based programming and advocacy strategies.

The Training began by looking at the complexities of using a rights-based approach to refugee protection, and ran through different models of legal aid delivery, considering legal aid’s role in wider access to justice and legal empowerment approaches. A session on monitoring and evaluation in legal aid then looked at how to meaningfully measure and understand your impact on the refugee rights landscape, and your progress towards your own goals.

We continued the afternoon with a workshop on child-sensitivity and child protection policies in refugee legal aid delivery, hearing from participants’ own practical challenges, and brainstorming together for ways around these difficulties and tensions. Following this, we heard invaluable tips for fundraising from the perspective of a decision-maker at a grant-making foundation, with practical exercises, and discussion of the importance of story telling, presenting the problem, and relationship building.

Geneva Training Refugee Rights
ED Emily Arnold-Fernandez leads a session at the Refugee Rights Leadership Training.

The day concluded with presentations from various participants on new developments in the refugee rights movement: We heard about projects including the Refugee Rights Toolkit, the Refugee Work Rights CoalitionRefugee Solidarity Network in Turkey, new screening mechanisms and empowerment trainings in Hong Kong, and the increasing use of biometric data by governments in refugee status determination proceedings – and how, as legal advisors, to respond to this.

“Participating in the Refugee Rights Leadership Training was a great experience. The training provided an invaluable opportunity to share experiences and think creatively about your work with people who are doing what you are doing, only on the other side of the world.” – Matty Verburg, AMERA Egypt

Our second day focused on how to link refugee legal aid with national, regional and international advocacy for refugee rights, and how to plan for and develop strategies at each of these levels. Vibrant presentations led by legal aid providers from Uganda, Turkey and Hong Kong covered what worked in their national and regional contexts, and a presentation by Asylum Access Ecuador related how the Cartagena +30 initiative came together.

These sessions fed into a wider group discussion on planning for systemic change, both once we returned to our own contexts, and with a view to successfully advocating for refugee rights at the UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs.

“The Refugee Rights Leadership Training was transformative for me both personally and professionally. I had the unique opportunity to learn and connect on refugee issues with scholars from all over the world. Through the lectures and discussions, I gained a broader understanding and improved perspective on refugee rights protection and, as a UNHCR affiliate worker, I endeavor to put everything that I learnt into practice.” – Lillian Otieno, UNHCR / CAN Kenya

The final day of the Training took the form of a Workshop on the Nairobi Code, a set of ethics for refugee legal advisors, in use since 2007. This was an opportunity for the legal aid community to reflect on ethical challenges encountered when working with refugees, to share experiences in addressing these in a variety of national contexts, and to share ideas on the Nairobi Code’s gaps, enforcement, and interpretative guidelines.

In conclusion, each participant shared one thing they had learned, and one thing they would do, as a result of the Training. Somehow still energized after three summer days spent in the bowels of the Maison des Associations in Geneva, participants from every continent spoke of the small, practical impacts the sessions would have on their day-to-day work. I, for one, left inspired by the conclusions of one of our community’s newest legal aid organizations, who learned that they were not alone in their efforts, and resolved ‘not to give up’ in future!

Thank you to everyone who took part for your openness, engagement and critical thinking that continue to shape and strengthen the refugee rights movement.

Written by Program Associate Laura Parker