My Internship Experience with Refugee Rights Europe

By Smret Gebreslassie- content manager, RRE blog

I joined Refugee Rights Europe (RRE) in June 2018 as a volunteer when I was first introduced by a friend. At that time, I was about to start my graduate studies hence I was mainly doing translations, but later I had the opportunity to do field research with the RRE team among displaced people in Brussels. Later on, in October 2019, I was offered to take part in ten weeks of accredited internship as part of my MA. During the ten weeks I spent as a programme associate, I gained the experience of working on diverse tasks and responsibilities. After being acquainted with the members of RRE and the dynamics of the organization, I started my internship with the task of handling the RRE guest blog which involves inviting people from the partner organisations to participate in the guest blog. The blog aims to share their experiences on different aspects of the human right crisis facing refugees and displaced people in Europe; to provide any relevant updates regarding the current situation that would bring about discussion towards an efficacious solution.

Besides, I was also invited to assist a grant research project; the main task of the project is to find suitable grants and funders to support the work of RRE. I had to research on organisations, charities and foundations relevant to RRE’s cause. The grant research was a new and good experience for me too, as it provides important experience before moving on to more complex grant proposals. Moreover, I got the opportunity to find out about several different funding agencies with charitable purposes in human rights, advocacy, equality and justice for refugees and asylum seekers. Salesforce data inputting was an insightful experience I took part in during my internship time. This administrative task is really important for RRE as it’s a way to keep track of partner interactions and relationships, advocacy work and fundraising activities. In using the Salesforce platform, I have learned how to build up contact management and its flexibility that creates an intuitive and useful system for its users.  I was also able to gain access to a wide network of refugee-related individuals and organisations.

I was then responsible for conducting additional tasks; such as sending out emails to RRE advisors and researchers/volunteers with monthly activities and updates. Together with, preparing notes from webinars on different topics, this allowed me to gain knowledge, good learning experience and a brief background into the various works of NGOs.  Some highlights from the webinars included firstly how to write great grant proposals, both from the perspective of the funder and the fundraiser. Secondly, I learned about the topic of community-based feedback systems, which aims to connect and address the needs of communities with the government service providers. The last one was a webinar on measuring social media success. The webinar is about how to focus, build and maintain on social media channel to outreach large audience. This includes how to use social media in organisations.

Another key area of responsibility was my activity related to conducting various desk-research on the current human rights issues and advocacy areas for policy change. RRE’s campaign to call for having UK asylum processing facilities on French soil was the first research I was engaged in. The main task was to research statements by MPs and recommendations from NGOs/charities who have called for the idea of having UK asylum office on the French border, together with the statements relating to the need to increase legal routes to the UK asylum system. The purpose of the research was to reflect on human consequences of the juxtaposed border arrangements between the UK and France, an emphasis on their effects on human rights amongst prospective asylum seekers. The joint agreement between the UK and France has prohibited refugees from filing an asylum application unless they enter the UK irregularly.

Then I moved towards helping a small desk-research task on the situation of refugees in the context of push-backs at the Serbia-Croatia border.  I did this by going through the materials of UNHCR, and organisations such as Are You Syrious and Human Rights Watch, who have documented the violence, abuse and illegal pushbacks being perpetrated against refugees, crossing the border to reach Europe on the Balkan route. A similar task was also to conduct research about the refugee situation on French-Spanish border. Moreover, I was helping a desk-research on NGOs and grass-root organisations operating in Balkans. RRE’s advocacy campaign about women and girls in displacement was also valuable and, RRE presented its work in the European Parliament in a women’s round table event in this regard. In the field of MEPs, the next task was to look at the leading members of European Parliamentary Committees who are interested in migration, gender equality and women rights, for future contact. FEMM and LIBE Committees were amongst my focus. With this, on behalf of RRE, together with my programme officer colleague, I also prepared a blog on women sexual harassment for the University of East London.

As a student in Ethnic and migration studies at Linköping University, Sweden, the objectives of the programme and my study is to build an understanding of the causes and consequences of various forms of migration; to help and improve some of the world’s most vulnerable, exploitable and excluded group of people. This internship with RRE allowed me to expand my knowledge of human rights issues and develop my communication skills by learning more about the work of NGOs. The desk-research I took part in during my internship allowed me to demonstrate that I can work independently and on reflection, I feel that the internship provided me with opportunities to improve my research skills. As such, the experience, skills and knowledge I have acquired will be helpful for my future career as I now have a better understanding of the work of human rights organisations.


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