International Internship Reflections

Elif Sekercioglu
Elif Sekercioglu

Elif Sekercioglu is the recipient of our 2019 International Internship, offered in partnership with the UNHCR's Division of International Protection (Statelessness Section) based in Geneva. Elif is currently undertaking three months of the internship in Geneva. Here are her reflections -

Newly graduated from the JD, I arrived in Geneva in August to begin a four-month internship with the Statelessness Section of the UNHCR’s Division of International Protection. The first three months have been a whirlwind of learning and unique experiences. My tasks have been consistently interesting and challenging. I assist the Statelessness Section across a range of responsibilities, such as research, providing technical advice to States and preparing materials on statelessness for the public. My ongoing research project is updating two of the Good Practices Papers, a series published by UNHCR. Each Paper corresponds to one of the 10 Actions set out in UNHCR’s Global Action Plan to End Statelessness: 2014 – 2024 and highlights good practices by States relating to that Action. The two Papers I am working on illustrate good practices in resolving existing major situations of statelessness (Action 1), and establishing statelessness determination procedures (Action 6). Analysing domestic legislation and policy in the context of UNHCR policy has been a valuable process for drawing on skills from the JD and acquiring new ones.

The team have been very welcoming and supportive; in addition to the fulfilling nature of the work, my colleagues’ mentorship is a significant reason why I am enjoying the internship so much.

I feel there is currently great momentum and interest in ending statelessness. My tasks included supporting the Statelessness Section with preparations for the High-Level Segment on Statelessness (HLS). This event was held on 7 October, the first day of the week-long meeting of the UNHCR Executive Committee, to mark the midpoint of the UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness. The HLS was a highlight of my internship. It featured an interview between Cate Blanchett, a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, and Maha Mamo, a formerly stateless person who acquired Brazilian nationality in 2018 and is a staunch advocate for stateless persons. This was followed by a high level panel in which experts, including Amina Mohamed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner for Refugees, reflected on achievements made in the Campaign to End Statelessness and where gaps still remain. Statelessness is clearly on the global agenda: many States expressed commitments to address statelessness in their interventions.

Geneva is a beautiful place to live. When I arrived in August, the city was recovering from a heat wave and I spent my weekends at bain des paquis, a swimming spot built in the 1930s. I have enjoyed hiking in nearby Chamonix-Mont-Blanc and exploring the UNESCO-listed terraced vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva. Now autumn has set in and it is well and truly fondue season. It was an incredible experience to spend the week of the Executive Committee meeting in the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations. As a former history student, I was in awe of the labyrinthine Palais, which still bears the League of Nations insignia on its doors. One morning, a flock of sheep appeared in the grounds – an autumnal initiative to cut the grass in an ecologically sustainable manner.  Geneva also has a lively intern community and I’ve learnt so much from talking to interns from different UN agencies, NGOs and the Permanent Missions about their day-to-day work.

The internship has been an unparalleled learning opportunity. I have learnt about the causes of statelessness and the concrete actions States can take to end existing situations of statelessness and prevent new cases from arising. I have gained an understanding of the international legal framework of statelessness and different policy approaches. More broadly, I have appreciated gaining a unique insight into how the UNHCR operates within the spheres of international law, protection on the ground and diplomacy. I am looking forward to expanding on my learning about statelessness when I intern with the Peter McMullin Centre following the Geneva portion of my internship.