Interview by Can Eminoğlu | 8 January 2021
The Junior Professional Officers (JPO) programme invites new talent to UNHCR by offering young professionals an opportunity to obtain training and exposure to the organization’s humanitarian work either in field assignment or at headquarters.
“Where should I begin?” wonders Haruko Kudo with excitement when asked about her professional career. Haruko is a Junior Professional Officer (JPO), currently working as an Associate Protection Officer with UNHCR in Gaziantep, thanks to the funding and sponsorship of the Government of Japan. She shares with us the details of her work and her experience as a JPO.
Haruko, from Izu Oshima in Tokyo, joined UNHCR’s Turkey operation in June 2018. She had always wanted to be involved in the protection of refugees. Before joining the UNHCR family, she was pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology in Japan and working with different NGOs supporting refugees and asylum-seekers. Having worked for the protection of refugees encouraged her to apply to the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in 2016. “I had already gained relevant experience not only academically but also in the field. Some of my friends had volunteered with UNHCR in Nigeria and Thailand. I decided to go ahead and apply for a volunteer position with UNHCR, regardless of the service location or country, to use the knowledge I had accumulated on the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers. When I was assigned to UNHCR Egypt, I was very excited.”
“The UN Volunteers (UNV) programme at UNHCR was one of the best experiences I have ever had.”
Haruko took an active role in delivering humanitarian support to those in need as a UNV with UNHCR Egypt in 2016. She worked there for 20 months. For Haruko, that experience was unforgettable.
While working in Egypt, Haruko decided to extend her experience by working in another UNHCR operation through the JPO programme. The JPO programme supports young professionals in gaining hands-on knowledge with the United Nations thanks to the sponsorship of participating donor governments. She applied to the programme without any hesitation and was selected. She was appointed with UNHCR Turkey, to Gaziantep in the southeast of the country, bordering Syria, in the protection unit. “I was delighted with the appointment as I knew I would be able to use what I had learnt in Egypt. This was a good opportunity for me not only to develop the scope of my experience but also to contribute to the protection response in Turkey.” As she expected, her experience allowed her to come up with practical solutions at any given time, even though the context and the number of persons in need of protection differ from Egypt. Currently, Haruko supports the implementation of the UNHCR’s Gender Based Violence (GBV) response, facilitates trainings of partners and coordinates inter-agency activities under the Syria Refugee and Resilience Response Plan (3RP) umbrella. She is happy about her learning process in which she thinks communication plays a vital role. “In our daily work, strong communication based on mutual trust with the government, persons in need of protection and other partners leads to a better protection environment. This helps us to take necessary steps and come up with innovative approaches.”
Haruko believes that the close relationship between the JPOs and UNHCR staff can indeed boost dynamism to the benefit of refugees in the country of asylum.
Haruko thinks that the JPO programme supports the lives of refugees as well as the human, institutional and operational capacity of UNHCR. For her, the close relationship between the JPOs and UNHCR staff can indeed boost dynamism to the benefit of refugees in the country of asylum. “Once you decide on the necessary steps to take, UNHCR provides you with the tools so that you can utilize your analytic knowledge and ability.”
Haruko is enjoying being a JPO in an energetic working environment among supportive colleagues in Gaziantep and would like to continue working for UNCHR once her JPO time comes to an end. She encourages more humanitarian workers to become JPOs with UNHCR so as to gain invaluable experience in the field and provide protection to refugees while at the same time contributing to the capacity development of UNHCR.
Japan is a key partner to the refugee response in Turkey. With the invaluable contribution of the People of Japan through JPOs, UNHCR is able to enhance its protection and assistance work to the benefit of refugees and asylum-seekers. A big thanks goes to Japan for helping refugees and for providing valuable young professionals with the opportunity to take part in the global humanitarian response.