Field Legal Office of UNRWA (2021) - Amna Ali

BCL student, Amna Ali, was awarded the OPBP - Bonavero Institute Student Fellowship for 2021. For 2021, the Fellowship consisted of an internship at the Field Legal Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (‘UNRWA’) in Amman, Jordan. Due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the internship was remote.

UNRWA was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Its services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance. In Jordan, UNRWA provides assistance and protection to around 2.2 million Palestine refugees from Jordan, 17500 Palestine refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria as well as displaced people from Gaza and West Bank.

The Field Legal Office provides legal advice and support to the Jordan Field Office to improve the overall quality of UNRWA’s service delivery. It currently includes one internationally recruited Head Field Legal Office, a Deputy Head Field Legal Office, a Legal Coordinator, an administrative assistant and interns.

Throughout her internship at UNRWA, Amna undertook a wide range of tasks predominantly relating to UNRWA’s legal and administrative framework. 

"First of all, I assisted with research and the provision of legal advice to different departments within UNRWA. As well as grappling with humanitarian and refugee law, this required knowledge of UNRWA’s administrative framework. Due to the nature of the work, the issues raised would be highly sensitive and involve many departments within UNRWA working together. As an intern, it was interesting to observe how a strong interdisciplinary approach was adopted to these sensitive issues."

Her casework consisted of regularly drafting internal memoranda and correspondence relating to investigations and disciplinary actions taken against UNRWA's staff members.

"As a caseworker, I would receive the investigation documents which included witness statements, court documents, and reports. By scrutinising UNRWA’s policies and legal framework, I would come to a judgement as to the appropriate disciplinary response after liaising with the Head of the Legal Office. Following this, I drafted the required letters to the staff member, as well as the reports, and various internal memoranda to document the decision. Other interns and staff members were extremely helpful in helping me ease into this type of work by offering advice and help."

Finally, she assisted with the drafting and review of various legal documents and letters.

"For example, on a few occasions, I assisted in drafting letters addressing government ministers to serve the operational and institutional needs of the Agency. On another occasion, I drafted a settlement agreement. Upon sending my draft, I would be sent the final version of the letter or agreement to help improve my drafting skills. As an Arabic speaker, I was able to read any relevant government documents which helped save time."

Overall, the internship benefited her in a variety of ways.

"First, I have greatly benefited from a career perspective. As an aspiring barrister, the drafting experience I gained from the internship was invaluable. By researching, analysing and applying the UNRWA legal framework, I am now confident in my ability to draft a variety of legal documents. The academic skills I gained during my undergraduate studies and BCL at Oxford gave me an excellent grounding in the knowledge and critical analysis required, whilst the internship equipped me with vital legal and professional skills.

Second, the internship provided me with practical legal experience at a UN Agency. Internships at the UN are notoriously difficult to obtain. The OPBP-Bonavero fellowship was invaluable in opening this door. I anticipate that this will greatly help if I decide to join other NGOs during my career.

Third, the internship exposed me to the important work of UNRWA, Jordan. The plight of the Palestinian refugees raises a vast array of human rights issues. UNRWA is in a unique position in being mandated to provide services to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. However, its mandate is limited; they cannot resettle Palestine refugees and they strictly adhere to impartiality and operational independence. Often this means that tricky, politically sensitive issues need to be navigated carefully. The internship exposed me to these sensitive issues."

For more information about the OPBP Internship Programme, click here.

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