How an advocacy and human rights internship in Cape Town shaped his future career plans

After completing his masters in European and International law, Emiel from Belgium joined us in Cape Town at the end of last year to gain work experience in this field. Working with a nonprofit organization that works with asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, he completed a six-month advocacy and human rights internship in Cape Town. Today, he is an intern at the United Nations in Aruba. Recently, we caught up with him and we are happy to hear how much his internship with Roots has inspired him and how it changed his career plans. 

Advocacy intern in front of advocacy program sign Cape Town

Emiel, can you explain your tasks during your Roots internship?

As a volunteer at Scalabrini’s Advocacy Programme, I provided supervised paralegal advice, practical assistance and referrals to vulnerable individuals and groups from refugee, migrant and asylum seeker communities. I assisted with providing information on the asylum application process, documentation and following-up on hate crimes and xenophobic incidents. Finally, I contributed to researching South African legislation and refugee issues in Africa.

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How has the internship shaped your future plans?

Growing up, I always told myself that I would once make use of the opportunities that I was given to try and support people dealing with less fortunate situations. Because of my interest in human rights, and rights of refugees and asylum seekers in particular, I decided that an internship in this context would be the ideal way to put my words into action. My internship at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town was also a way for me to test if working in this specific field was something that I really wanted. I can however guarantee you that at the end of my 6-month period, I was completely convinced about wanting to continue working on legal issues surrounding refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. My time at this nonprofit has therefore played a big role in shaping my future plans, since it was the reason for me to actually start pursuing a career in the world of legal protection concerning refugees and asylum seekers.

What are you doing at the moment, and how does it relate to your internship with Scalabrini?

I am currently undertaking a second internship, this time as a legal intern with the Caribbean Protection Unit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Aruba. I think the relation to my internship at Scalabrini speaks for itself: I am again working on the legal protection of asylum seekers and refugees, but this time in the context of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, which is causing people to flee to neighboring countries, including islands like Aruba, Curacao and Trinidad & Tobago.

What were the highlights of your internship?

To be honest, there were just too many highlights to name them all! With regards to the work at the Scalabrini Centre, I learned an enormous amount just by talking to refugees and asylum seekers on a daily basis: a true humbling and life-changing experience. Outside of work, I absolutely loved the fact that it was so easy to get together with people and just go out to explore Cape Town’s countless adventures.There’s no doubt in my mind that I will once return to this wonderful place.

advocacy Intern at work in Cape Town

Have a look at reasons why you should do an NGO internship!