UNV Niger
UN Volunteer Gabriella Fana Kidane (Sweden) discussing with a young refugee in one of UNHCR offices in Niamey, Niger, during November 2018.

UN Volunteers break language barriers to support the protection of refugees in Niger

Niger currently hosts tens of thousands of refugees. Since the end of 2017, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched a new life-saving programme known as the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) to evacuate vulnerable refugees from detention centres in Libya. The evacuees from Libya mainly include Ethiopians, Eritreans, Somalis and Sudanese. In its mission to protect the refugees in the region, UNHCR strongly recognizes and appreciates the support of United Nations Volunteers. They are active in several areas in the organization, ranging from protection, registration or program officers and especially interpreters.

In Niamey, 10 UN volunteers serve in UNHCR offices as interpreters. Thanks to their commitment, capacities in languages and communications as well as linguistic and cultural proximity with the refugees, they improve the quality of protection and assistance provided to refugees, facilitate interviews, registrations, medical services etc., to better guarantee their rights and well-being.

Gabriela Fana Kidane, a young Swedish interpreter of Eritrean origin is an international UN Volunteer with UNHCR in Niamey, Niger. She serves as an interpreter with vulnerable refugees who have been evacuated from Libya. She speaks French, English and Tigrinya, the official language in Eritrea. 

She states that her background and her passion are mainly focused on young people and vulnerable youth. In her view, that’s one of the most meaningful parts of working with UNHCR. 

The contributions of Gabriela and her UN Volunteer colleagues to the priorities of UNHCR are frequently requested, even beyond normal working hours or on weekends. But they all said they are satisfied, as this is an opportunity, as volunteers, to help people exposed to incredible hardship to regain their identity and dignity.

There are a lot of vulnerable young people who are coming from Libya and being the focal point and the bridge culturally, as an Eritrean, between the refugees and the organization is incredibly meaningful. It’s a rewarding experience to use my language skills and other capacities to capture, understand and transmit their stories so that UNHCR can help them. I am proud to feel like someone who is able to make their experiences a little bit more comfortable and less intimidating to them. --Gabriela Fana Kidane, UN Volunteer with UNHCR, Niger

Mebrahton Gebretsakan is also an International UN Volunteer interpreter with UNHCR in Niamey since July 2018. Every day, he meets with and assists refugees who are evacuated from Libya. His job is to facilitate interviews, listen and transmit the testimonies of evacuees to help ensure their identification and protection within the UN agency.

Mebrahtom Gebretsakan assisting Souley Boukari (left), Refugee Status Determination Associate for UNHCR, during an interview with a young refugee. (UNV 2018)
Mebrahton works in many environments such as at the hospital, at the police station or at the offices during interviews, to translate their stories and to facilitate communication between refugees and UNHCR as well as officials from resettlement countries.
For this native Ethiopian, working as a volunteer in Niamey is an important experience. He says many refugees have had terrible experiences, many of whom are his Ethiopian compatriots or from neighboring countries.
For Mebrahton, when he sees the satisfaction of these vulnerable people, especially after completing all the procedures, he feels a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that he is contributing, as a United Nations volunteer, to guarantee their rights and well-being. He shares one of his experiences:

In October, after assisting refugees and facilitating their identification with the UNHCR, I had the pleasure of seeing them off weeks later at Niamey airport for departure for resettlement to Germany. I saw the satisfaction in their faces. This moment was very important to me. I'm happy to help them. --Mebrahton Gebretsakan, UN Volunteer with UNHCR, Niger

UNHCR is mobilizing to evacuate more refugees from Tripoli to Niger temporarily, before they can be resettled to third countries. According to the UN Refugee agency, evacuations began in November 2017 and since then, with the support of UN volunteers, 2,200 people have been able to leave Libya for Niger and then Europe, the US and Canada.

The ETM is an essential and life-saving programme, saving people from systematic violence and terrible conditions in Libya and helping them to regain their dignity. This would not be possible without the skills of our invaluable volunteer interpreters, who are an integral part of the overall programme. --Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR Representative in Niger