2019 Fellowship: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Liam Turnbull

What year are you in?

Which organization did you work for, and in which city and country?
For the 2019 summer, I worked at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok, Thailand (National Office - Thailand Representation).

What were the highlights of your fellowship?
I was able to conduct interviews of both refugees and their family members to adjudicate claims for derivative refugee status. I would subsequently conduct country of origin information (COI) research to authenticate applicants’ claims. After both interviewing applicants and conducting COI research, I incorporated my findings while drafting legal assessments of each case to adjudicate applicants’ claims. I also drafted decision notification letters and gave these letters to applicants directly, in-person, during ‘Notification of Decision’ counselling. During the counselling, I interacted directly with applicants when notifying them of the acceptance or rejection of their claim for refugee status. 

What were some of the challenges that you faced this summer?
I had to conduct myself professionally in front of asylum seekers who were often extremely emotional, as well as manage my own emotions to provide effective Protection counselling. I also gave such counselling in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre, where both asylum seekers and recognized refugees are regularly detained given that they lack official legal status in Thailand. Such counselling was extremely difficult but undoubtedly necessary, and I was glad that I was able to provide advice and comfort to the best of my ability.

What were some of your first impressions of the country/city where you completed your fellowship? How/Did these impressions change over time? Share anything interesting about your experience (best meal, favourite memory, etc.)
It was my second time in Thailand, and it was great to continue learning about the country from extremely welcoming and friendly co-workers. I also had very interesting experiences training at a Muay Thai school after work.

What advice do you have for students hoping to be an IHRP fellow next year?
The advice I would give to prospective IHRP fellows would be to enjoy every minute of the experience and make the most of your time there. Make sure to work hard for your organization to contribute positively to their work, but also remember to have fun and learn about the city you’re living in.

UNHCR MugUNHCR Mug and Birthday Card
Birthday card and gift from UNHCR colleagues. Credit: Liam Turnbull.