Protection Counselor at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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Program Timing: Ongoing / Location: Washington, DC

About Franciscan Mission Service:
Franciscan Mission Service (FMS) is a nonprofit organization that provides Catholic women and men the opportunity to serve in solidarity with economically marginalized communities around the world. FMS trains, sends, and supports lay Catholics to serve others in a way that is respectful of cultural and religious differences.

About the DC Service Corps Program:
The DC Service Corps (DCSC) Program offers young-adult Catholics opportunities to learn about nonprofits, deepen one’s commitment to service, grow in faith, and live out the Franciscan values daily. In the spirit of Saints Francis and St. Clare, volunteers serve for a year in various ministries, sharing Christ’s love and cultivating relationships of peace and justice.

This transformative experience is enriched by an intentional Christian community, in which volunteers focus on simple living, prayer, reflection, and living the Gospel mission of “service and action for a more just and humane world.” As a house of hospitality, Casa San Salvador provides volunteers with the opportunity to live with (and offer hospitality to) guests from around the world.

Primary Position Responsibilities:
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the United Nations agency with the responsibility to assist in the protection of refugees and asylum seekers around the globe. A central responsibility of the UNHCR Office in Washington, D.C., is to ensure that all refugees and individuals seeking asylum in the United States are provided the opportunity to receive the protection they need. One of the key ways this is done is through our UNHCR Protection Hotline, available toll-free to asylum-seekers and refugees in immigration detention anywhere in the United States, as well as to individuals outside of detention seeking assistance with asylum claims.
The principal responsibility of the Franciscan Volunteer will be to assist the UNHCR Washington office in providing assistance to asylum-seekers and refugees in the United States who contact the office, the majority of whom do so through our hotline from detention facilities, while others write letters or emails, and some who are not detained visit in person. Detained asylum-seekers face significant barriers because they often do not have access to legal assistance and their ability to interact with community organizations, family and friends is very limited. The Franciscan Volunteer will answer these calls, letters, and emails, inform asylum-seekers about the U.S. asylum system, and provide them with self-help materials, research on country of origin conditions, and information about non-profit legal services in their area. Sometimes this work allows for greater involvement in a particular case, such as responding to concerns about general detention conditions; violations of rights regarding the asylum procedure; and issues concerning particularly vulnerable populations such as unaccompanied children, stateless individuals, and persons with mental health difficulties. The Franciscan Volunteer provides a necessary link between asylum-seekers and the rest of the Protection and Solutions staff and is relied upon to share any patterns or trends in the conditions and challenges faced by the detainees and the needs of asylum-seekers more generally.

The Franciscan volunteer will also be responsible for responding to inquiries about global individual refugee resettlement cases. These inquiries from U.S. law firms, congressional offices, resettlement agencies, and NGOs, concern individuals or families who desire to be resettled in the United States or who are already in the process of being resettled. Responding to these requests involves liaising with UNHCR colleagues abroad to ask for updates regarding an individual or family’s case status and potential timelines for resettlement.

After an introductory period in the position involving training, Franciscan Volunteer will take on the added responsibility of supervising a team of interns and volunteers to assist in responding to these inquiries. This is a shared role between the two protection counselors, usually a Catholic volunteer and a volunteer from Mennonite Voluntary Service, a similar program. This supervisory role will include training interns and volunteers, managing the distribution of assignments, and ensuring that information provided is appropriate.

When not directly responding to inquiries, the Franciscan Volunteer will provide support to the other members of the Protection and Solutions Unit. This work may include preparing for special meetings, attending events such as Congressional Hearings, analyzing data, and completing other Protection-related initiatives.

The position at UNHCR provides a unique opportunity to interact with staff from around the globe, learn about and be given access to national and international agencies, provide services to some of the most vulnerable individuals in the world, and gain a better understanding of U.S. and international asylum law and refugee protection concerns.

Description of Position:
The Franciscan Volunteer will interact on a daily basis with the other Protection Counselor to divide supervisory roles and ensure that all inquiries are being responded to appropriately. The volunteer will also interact with lawyers in the Protection and Solutions Unit who will provide regular supervision. There will be opportunities to work more independently as the Franciscan Volunteer’s skills and experience increase. The most challenging aspect of the position is interacting with asylum-seekers in detention, who do not have many resources to navigate the U.S. asylum system. The Franciscan Volunteer will also interact with other sections of the office working on global, regional and domestic refugee issues. As such, the position is a unique opportunity to interact with staff from around the world, and to gain a deeper appreciation of the United Nations system, the U.S. asylum system and international refugee protection principles.

Educational requirements:
The Franciscan Volunteer should have at least a Bachelor of Arts degree. Due to the language needs of the callers, the ability to speak Spanish is highly desirable, although not required.

The Franciscan Volunteer will receive ongoing training and education on UNHCR and its role internationally and in the United States, asylum law and the asylum system in the United States, and the core principles of refugee and asylum protection of UNHCR. The Loretto Volunteer will also be able to attend meetings held in the office such as briefings from individuals visiting the United States from other UNHCR offices around the world, including the High Commissioner for Refugees. There will also be opportunities to attend special events, presentations and discussions about issues related to refugee protection in the United States and internationally, and some exposure to related issues of concern to other United Nations agencies.

The Ideal Volunteer:
The ideal volunteer will have a commitment to providing services to the disadvantaged, a commitment to human rights and refugee protection, and a strong interest in other cultures and languages. This person will be interested in working directly with individuals in need of information about asylum protection in the United States and will have excellent communication skills and patience. Keen analytical skills, excellent research and writing abilities and attention to detail are also important. A willingness to take initiative, to ask questions, and to learn by doing are all very valuable. An interest in data and case management is also highly valuable, as the volunteer will lead management of individual case files and data trends.