2017 Withington Onwards Travel Award

Travel Award Report

Ghazzal Maydanchi (Class of 2016)

Here, Ghazzal tells us all about her recent nine-week internship with the UN Migration Agency in Geneva.

“Human movement, identity, and societal development are topics I care about deeply. There is too often a tendency to see migration as a crisis to be resolved, rather than a phenomenon that is natural and sustainable. I spent nine weeks in the summer between my first and second year at the University of Cambridge interning in the International Migration Law Unit of the UN Migration Agency (IOM), Geneva. The experience was more enriching than I could have ever imagined. I was given real responsibility, and I have no doubt that my time there has shaped my sense of purpose for the years ahead.

The International Migration Law (IML) Unit is the IOM’s focal point for human rights, including to the 460 IOM missions worldwide. It serves the dual purpose of capacity building – instructing member states on migration law best practices to promote compliance with international human rights principles; and legal research and advocacy – contributing to progressing the law in this area forward through publication, engagement, and education.

My main responsibility in the unit was the writing of an IML paper on migrant access to justice. It involved drawing together previous research on the topic under a newly devised thesis, and restructuring what were numerous fragmented drafts to a cohesive document. My aim for the document was to translate the intersectional element of migrant vulnerabilities, focussing on the critical nature of access to justice to empowerment and full inclusivity in society. I believe strongly that legal processes are means of empowerment for migrants against the context of xenophobia and discrimination which is too common in receiving societies. It is my hope that the paper will eventually be published as part of the IOM IML Green Series.

Additionally, I coordinated the arrangements for the annual IML training in Sanremo, Italy. I was surprised by the amount of responsibility I was given, but appreciated the opportunity to be self-directed in solving individual intricacies as they arose, and experience how international governance is done at a top-down level, especially with regard to fund allocation. I greatly appreciated the opportunities I had to liaise directly with state civil servants as a representative of the IOM, including when acting as a runner at the IOM’s annual International Dialogue on Migration; attending a ICRC dialogue on migrants, mothers and the missing, and then having the privilege to attend the UN Human Rights Council, especially attending closed sessions on enforced disappearances, and consultations on a UNHRC resolution for the human rights of unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents. Being able to experience the workings of the IOM now at this time, just under a year after its admission to the UN system, and as it is still in the process of developing the Global Compact for Migration – what will be the blueprint for international migration governance – was definitely incredibly exciting for me, and I learnt an immeasurable amount from my colleagues and those people I was able to meet from the status of being in Geneva.

I felt comforted by how international the working environment was, and was ever amazed by the constant exchanges between different languages by my colleagues, who valued my internship as a teaching experience by giving me proper feedback and genuinely stimulating tasks. It became clear very quickly that field experience would be an asset that would put me in good stead as I looked forward to the progression of my career. The opportunities to read legal papers, but from the perspectives of international relations, sociology, and anthropology, were a refreshing world away from what is a very traditional Cambridge law course.

I am grateful to the Withington Travel Award, without which I would not have been able to contemplate interning in Geneva – a city that is certainly as expensive as its reputation touts it to be. Geneva in the summer is a wonderful place to live with its own distinct personality. Being there in the summer, swimming in the lake, making the friends I did, were all part of a memorable experience that has no doubt made me confident to prepare myself for a career in law and policy. Being able to have the experience I have had at this stage in my career has given me the real confidence that legal careers outside of even qualifying can be just as legitimate, and that working in public international law is not as bureaucratic and idealistic as some would try and advise.”

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