The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) constantly explores new ways to support the people we serve, and one of the most exciting and impactful initiatives we have launched in recent years is the Refugee UN Volunteer programme. Volunteers are an important part of the fabric that makes up UNHCR, and we recognize the vital role that they play in our work.
In 2018, we launched the Refugee UN Volunteer special initiative in collaboration with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, engaging refugees and asylum seekers in UNV assignments in their host countries.
The programme facilitates employment opportunities, aiming to empower refugees and asylum seekers and build on their competencies and skills. By doing so, the initiative promotes professional growth, strengthens self-reliance, reduces dependence on humanitarian assistance, and creates incentives for more refugee youth to complete their education – all while supporting our mandate.
Since its launch, the special initiative – coordinated by the Affiliate Partnerships and Recruitment Section in the Division of Human Resources of UNHCR – has engaged nearly 60 Refugee UN Volunteers, and the number continues to grow. In 2022, when we celebrated the UNHCR Volunteer Service Award winners it was a proud moment to have two Refugee UN Volunteers among the awardees.
But why is the Refugee UN Volunteers initiative so beneficial for everyone involved?
It is a win-win for all participants. Engaging refugees and asylum seekers in their host communities can be very beneficial – they are more aware of the needs of the people we serve and have a better understanding of what they are facing in their daily lives.
This way, we can benefit from Refugee UN Volunteer’s expertise, skills, and unique insights to provide more effective and efficient assistance, while opening up opportunities for them to access income-generating activities and further collaborate with, and contribute to, their host communities.
In Hungary, for example, the Budapest helps! Info and Community Center – set up by UNHCR in partnership with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and Budapest Municipality – is partly run by Refugee UN Volunteers who provide daily support to Ukrainian refugees.
Yuliia Morozova has been serving as Cultural Coordinator in the Center since October 2022. She fled to Hungary with her two children right after the war broke out in Ukraine. For her, it was crucial to help her fellow citizens from the very beginning; Yuliia leads drum workshops for youth and adults, among other cultural and recreational activities, and finds the experience incredibly enriching.
“It is more comforting to deal with the wide spectrum of emotions when you share similar stories and routes with people around you. Here, in the Center, I can do what I really love: help my own community, and I am grateful for this opportunity. I believe I am developing both myself and my career. The connections that I make, the life stories that I learn, the paths that I assist to are enriching me day-to-day,” shares Yuliia.
Karina Maiurnyk is another Refugee UN Volunteer who joined in November 2022. She works as a Digital Community Manager Assistant in Hungary and is responsible for the updates on UNHCR’s digital platforms and in specific social media groups that are being used by Ukrainian refugees in Hungary to disseminate information, ask questions, and create support networks. She constantly has innovative ideas on how to establish a two-way communication mechanism using social media between UNHCR and refugees.
“It is important for me to be useful to others. From the outset of the war, my sister and I were there with my mother to help with information sharing and to give food to those in need. My sister’s brother has been in the war, and I know what people feel in those moments of emergency – fear and anxiousness. This is what brought me here, and I am glad to be here,” says Karina.
The Refugee UN Volunteers special initiative offers greater opportunities to people forced to flee, empowering them and creating stronger, more compassionate, and more inclusive communities for all. Even if only one refugee had benefited from the programme, it would already be a success and worth doing. This initiative has huge potential and is extremely powerful. At UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, we are ready to support operations that are interested in engaging Refugee UN Volunteers.
Learn more about the Refugee UN Volunteers special initiative.
This article was first published on LinkedIn and can be accessed here: Unlocking the Power of Volunteerism to Empower Refugees and Asylum Seekers.