Elena, Associate Asylum Expert in Rhodes, Greece
Rhodes, 18 October 2016 - Elena Janniki joined ICMC in 2012, at a time when Greece was undertaking an important reform of its asylum system. Since then, the country has registered ever increasing arrivals of people fleeing war, violence and persecution, risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea and taking extremely dangerous routes in search of safety in Europe. Today, Elena works as an Associate Asylum Expert deployed to the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), at its office in Rhodes, Greece.
Together with many other experts deployed all over Greece, Elena puts her great expertise in the field of refugee protection at the service of the United Nations' Refugee Agency and of the Greek authorities, assisting them in the management of the incoming migrants and asylum seekers. Since 2010, ICMC’s experts provided critical support to these protection activities thanks to their competencies in various fields such as advocacy, law, information analysis, quality assurance, project management, or communications.
As part of her daily activities, Elena is in charge of making sure that the reception of asylum seekers and their status determination are carried out according to the appropriate procedures and law requirements.
How did you become an expert in refugee protection?
I am a lawyer by training - with a specialization in European law - and I have been working with refugees in Greece since 2011. I had previously worked in human rights and good governance programs in Angola with the European Commission, before heading back to Greece in 2005, where I held several positions within the Greek Government. I have also worked as scientific Collaborator of the "Hellenic Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Implementation and Dissemination of International Humanitarian Law” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic.
What are the day-to-day responsibilities of an Associate Asylum Expert?
Under the supervision of UNHCR, I am responsible for providing support to the Regional Asylum Office in the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedure; in other words, I assist case workers in assessing asylum seekers’ claims for refugee status. I regularly attend case discussions and consultations with the caseworkers of the Greek Asylum Service, in order to clarify issues, provide answers to specific questions related to procedural or substantial legal issues and Country of Origin Information, with a view to supporting them to perform their tasks and to contributing to the quality of the procedure. I attend asylum interviews at first instance in order to support the case workers and to contribute to the quality of the interview procedure and full observance of procedural rules. I also monitor specific asylum cases, especially those of more vulnerable people, in coordination with UNHCR’s Protection Officers based in Athens, Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos, and Leros.
What are the main challenges of your role?
I feel the main challenge is based on the fact that the refugee emergency in Greece currently overlaps with a deep socio-economic crisis affecting the country. Local communities are confronted with the challenge to cope with the geopolitical challenges in the region and, more recently, with the institutional crisis of the European Union.
What do you find most rewarding in assisting refugees?
Every day, I see people feeling relieved as they are supported in times of great insecurity and hardship and this reassures me that I need to carry on assisting people in need. My commitment is renewed each time I look into the eyes of the elderly and children, especially those facing very difficult conditions; a sincere and warm smile may become the strongest form of human connection that they experience when living in such situations. Over time, I learned to empathize, not only with asylum seekers and refugees but also with the colleagues involved in the work of asylum procedures; this gives me the motivation to carry on when my job becomes overwhelming. On my days off, I spend time with family and friends, who are very supportive and appreciative of my work. I feel that my job offers me the opportunity, hopefully, to become a better person.