Young Professionals in Human Rights: An Interview with Kelly Hinde

Our second guest, Kelly Hinde is a Program Officer with the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. In this post, she discusses her experience working with refugees and asylum seekers in the context of third country resettlement and provides insights into the refugee resettlement program in the United States. 

1.       Can you tell us about your educational background- where did you complete your undergraduate studies from? What was your specialization in?
I received my BA from Boston University, with dual majors in International Relations and Economics. I had always known that I wanted to study international relations and/or affairs, and BU has an excellent program, where students choose a topical and a regional focus. My focuses were on international business and Europe. I did a second major in Economics because I thought it would be helpful for my career prospects (which it was). My interests have since expanded, but my education at BU set a foundation which ended up giving me a lot of opportunities.


2.       What drew you to refugee and asylum law and how did your educational background help your work with refugees?
For me, refugee and asylum issues were the perfect convergence of interests that I had been developing throughout my education: foreign policy, immigration, and human rights. During my undergraduate years I was lucky enough to intern for the late Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy of Massachusetts, for whom I did immigration casework. It was during this time that refugee issues first entered my radar, as I was learning about the U.S. immigration system and humanitarian immigration programs. I also spent an undergraduate semester studying abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, where I learned about many of the International Organizations doing humanitarian aid and human rights work. My educational background has helped me put refugee and asylum issues in the broader context of international issues, government structures, and historical conflicts and policies.

3.       You also have the experience of working in the private sector—before you started working with UNHCR; you have worked with JPMorgan Chase. How does your experience in the private sector contrast with your work with UNHCR and now, with the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)?
Working in the private sector was indeed very different than the work I have done since. But I am grateful for the experience at JPMorgan Chase, and at other for-profits that I have worked for, first and foremost because it directed my focus and helped me prioritize my career interests and goals. Secondly, for-profit work – especially for such a large company – gave me an essential understanding of organizational management skills and efficiency, which has helped me to be more successful in the non-profit world. In both for-profit and non-profit work, the best interests of clients are the priority – at JPMorgan, those clients were investors, and now my clients are refugees and other immigrants.

4.       How did your association with UNHCR start?
I started as an intern with UNHCR’s Division of International Protection at Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Working at that level of the organization was invaluable to developing my understanding of refugee issues – particularly, refugee resettlement – in the context of the entire organization and of the human rights and humanitarian aid world.

5.       Can you tell us about your experiences working with the UNHCR—you have been to the Middle East and North Africa with UNHCR. Was Middle East the focus of your undergraduate studies?
My internship developed into a “traineeship” with the same division at UNHCR Headquarters, where I learned everything I could about refugee resettlement, refugee status determination, and refugee protection issues, from some of the most talented people working in the industry. During that time I was involved with some really interesting projects for UNHCR, one of which led to an opportunity to go to Lebanon through the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) deployment scheme. ICMC deploys humanitarian professionals specializing in refugee resettlement to work at UNHCR offices around the world on consultancy contracts.

During the months I was in Lebanon happened to be right as the Arab Spring started in Tunisia and then spread to Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Part of my work was to support and assist offices around the Middle East and North Africa during this very volatile and unpredictable time. I conducted refugee resettlement interviews in Jordan and Egypt, in the latter case just a couple weeks after the Egyptian revolution ended. A few months after the Libyan civil war started, I relocated to the Tunisian border with Libya. I worked there in a camp that UNHCR had set up for non-Libyan refugees and asylum-seekers who had fled Libya. I was in Tunisia for six months with UNHCR, during which time I conducted resettlement interviews for refugees who were applying for resettlement to countries like the U.S., Australia, and Sweden. 

6.       Can you explain to us the process of resettlement of refugees to the US—what kind of support does the US government provide to newly resettled refugees?
A very small portion of refugees – less than 1% worldwide – are resettled. Of the refugees who are resettled, the majority are resettled to the United States, though other countries such as Canada, Australia, and several European countries, among others, also have resettlement programs. In most instances for resettlement to the U.S., UNHCR interviews the refugee in their country of asylum, prepares his/her application for resettlement, and submits the application to the U.S. government. The U.S. government then conducts additional interviews with the refugee face-to-face in the country of asylum, and the refugee goes through extensive security checks and medical screenings. If all goes well, the refugee travels to the United States.

The U.S. government, along with nine non-profit organizations called “Voluntary Agencies,” considers many factors such as whether and where the refugee has any family or close friends in the U.S., and then chooses which city and state the refugee will be resettled to. Once in that city, local branches and affiliates of the Voluntary Agencies – with funding from the U.S. government – assist newly resettled refugees with everything from setting up their first apartment, to learning how to ride the bus, enrolling children in school, finding a job, accessing medical and mental health services, enrolling in English classes, and more. The initial period of support, called the Reception and Placement period, is three months for newly resettled refugees, but refugees can continue to receive assistance for up to five years after arrival in the United States. After one year in the U.S., refugees can apply for their permanent residency (green card), and after five years they can apply for U.S. citizenship.

7.       What is the nature of your work with USCRI—does it involve interaction with refugees and asylum seekers? Are the individuals ‘resettled’ refugees (holding refugee status with UNHCR and coming to the US under a Resettlement program) or are they arriving as asylum seekers to the US?
USCRI is one of the nine Voluntary Agencies that works with the U.S. government to resettle refugees. My role is to support our local affiliate offices around the country, specifically with a program that helps refugees and other immigrant populations to become self-sufficient within six months of their arrival in the U.S. The clients in this program are refugees who received their refugee status from UNHCR and who were resettled to the U.S. through UNHCR, as well as individuals who were granted asylee status in the U.S. Our clients in this program also include certified Victims of Trafficking, Cuban/Haitian parolees, and Special Immigrant Visa holders.

8.       How do you draw upon your experience with the UNHCR in the Middle East in your current position with USCRI? Does your job involve a lot of travel?
My experience with UNHCR has helped me put my current work with USCRI in the broader context of the entire refugee resettlement process. Resettlement doesn’t start or end when a refugee gets on a plane to the United States – there’s much more that happens on either side of that journey. I’ve been lucky enough to work on both sides of the process. Additionally, my work with UNHCR in the Middle East and North Africa has helped me understand the drastic change refugees experience when arriving in their new country, and the specific needs they have in the first months after their arrival. It has made me better at my job supporting refugees when they arrive in the U.S. Part of my job at USCRI involves traveling to local resettlement offices around the country. I have been to places like St. Louis, Burlington, Vermont, and Albany, New York, where I have met newly arrived refugees and have heard about their experience so far in the U.S., and the challenges they are facing, as well as the successes they have had.

9.       What is the one aspect about your job that you really enjoy and love?
Meeting newly arrived refugees around the U.S. is absolutely the best part about my job. I have met refugees of all ages and backgrounds and from many different countries, all who have their own perspectives about their new lives in the United States. Recently, while I was visiting USCRI’s affiliate office in Connecticut, I even met one refugee who had lived in the same camp in Tunisia where I worked. It’s a small world!

10.   What are your future plans, say 5 years and 10 years from now- where do you see yourself working?
I hope to continue working at the intersection between global and local humanitarian issues, and would love to continue to be an advocate for refugees and other immigrant populations in whatever form that takes in the future. I can’t predict where I’ll be in five or ten years; all I know is that I’ve loved the experiences I’ve had, the places I’ve seen, and the people I’ve met.

11.   Given the extent of displacement concerns and ‘refugee’ situations across the world—there is an increasing interest in the work of UNHCR and other such organisations which help refugees and asylum seekers.  Which, according to you, are some organisations which are doing interesting work in this field?
In addition to big-name global organizations like the IRC, IOM, Save the Children, and many others who work with refugee, asylum, and immigration issues, I follow many of the small, local organizations – in both the U.S. and internationally – that are on-the-ground innovators in the field. For example, the Heartland Alliance of Human Needs & Human Rights, in Chicago, is doing groundbreaking work on the topic of supporting LGBT refugees. I am also very interested in the connection between photojournalism and refugee issues, and there are some incredible photographers – Gabriele Stabile, Ed Ou, Sebastian Rich, among many others – documenting the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers, and the conflicts that produce refugees and asylum-seekers around the world.

12.   Do you have any recommendations or tips for our readers about how to develop and nurture skills in the area of refugee and asylum law?
I think it’s very important to stay informed about global topics that affect refugee and asylum situations, policies, and law. Read between the lines of the news articles that talk about conflicts and wars, to think about how it affects the daily lives of the most vulnerable people in those locations. Additionally, I believe that case work is an essential component of building skills in the refugee and asylum field. Case work experience – even if it’s not specifically with refugees and asylum-seekers – is a valuable asset in this field, regardless of whether you want to work on an international, local, programmatic, policy, or academic level.

Have a question for Kelly? Please leave a comment and we will get them answered.
To know more about their work, please visit US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

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Tags: East, Immigrants, Middle, Refugees, USCRI


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