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Example of a standard UNHCR RSD job description

May 20, 2010

A follow up to our analysis of UNHCR’s refugee status determination resources, and the lack of full staff positions within UNHCR to perform a “core protection function.”

This recent job ad from UNHCR for an “Associate Eligibility Assistant” in Algeria illustrates the kind of junior level staff who do much of the heavy lifting in UNHCR’s RSD operations. According to the job description, this person will be expected to turn out eight RSD cases per week on average. Perhaps more important, this is not a regular UNHCR staff job.

This person will classified as a “UN Volunteer” or UNV. She or he will be paid, but the post is structured more like a well-paid internship or temporary clerkship rather than a long term career post. The terms of employment:

A 12-month contract; monthly volunteer living allowance (VLA) intended to cover housing, basic needs and utilities, equivalent to US$ 1,886 Single, US$2,136 with 1 Dep. US$ 2,336 with two or more Dep.; settling-in- grant (if applicable); life, health, and permanent disability insurance; assignment and return air tickets (if applicable); resettlement allowance for satisfactory service.

Whether this salary level is low given the skills and responsibility of the post is debatable. It’s better pay than what many comparable staff (and volunteers) at NGOs receive, but far below the level of international UN staff.

But the institutional symbolism is more clear. Within the UN system, a RSD eligibility assistant will be a “volunteer,” the lowest status of professional staff and technically not staff at all. He or she will be employed in a program set up originally to benefit the employee by providing an inspiring experience, part of a program intended “to promote volunteerism.”

But the actual job is to make life or death decisions about other people.  The question for UNHCR and its donors is whether the institutional status of “volunteer” matches the skills and commitment that these people are expected to bring, and the burdens they carry while wielding considerable power over people who say they are in danger of persecution.

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