In the spring of 2016, I applied for ELSA STEP traineeships for the first time. Since my main field of interest is refugee law, I chose the Council of Europe’s migration and refugee unit as my number one option. To be honest, I was not really expecting to get the traineeship as only one person gets selected, but it turned out that the time and effort I had put into the application paid off!
The Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees was appointed in 2016 to assist the member states of the Council of Europe in coping with the high numbers of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe. He carries out fact-finding missions to CoE member states, and the goal is to strengthen communication and cooperation within the Council and with international partners in the field of migration. Since his post has only been in existence for a year or so, the unit is still very new.
My main tasks included media monitoring and research on migration issues. I prepared a weekly update on the situation of refugees in Europe for the team to identify potential problems in CoE member states and issues that needed further attention. I also put together fact-sheets on several countries detailing different aspects of their migration laws and policies.
My other tasks included doing background research for the Special Representative’s fact-finding missions, assisting with the publication of his reports, and attending meetings and sessions to take notes for the Special Representative. By attending PACE sessions, press conferences, cooperation meetings with UN bodies, and events organised by the Permanent Representations of different countries, I managed to get a good overall understanding of the work of the organisation and its partners.
During the internship, I strengthened my research and fact-checking skills as well as my ability to think critically. And most importantly, I deepened my knowledge on migration laws and policies and on the situation of refugees in various countries while gaining a better understanding of the role the Council of Europe plays in the field of migration. The Council was also a great place in terms of networking, and I met numerous inspiring people from ambitious trainees to high-level diplomats. It was great to spend time with similar-minded people, and making new friends was easy as there are lots of trainees at the Council through different internship programmes.
Strasbourg is a beautiful city with an international atmosphere. While I worked in the Agora building, I also got to see the other buildings of the European institutions: I participated in a tour of Palais de l’Europe and attended sessions in its Hemicycle chamber, visited the Finnish Permanent Representation, saw the final of this year’s ELSA Human Rights Moot Court Competition, and met a Finnish lawyer working at the European Court of Human Rights who gave me a tour of the Court building and told me about her interesting job over coffee. The location of Strasbourg and the good train and bus connections also make it easy to visit other parts of France and the neighbouring countries (particularly Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg are within easy reach).
I’m confident that this experience will prove to be an invaluable asset in regards to my future career, and I would highly recommend the traineeship to any law student interested in human rights. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you have every chance of being selected if you just take the time to write an application showing genuine enthusiasm!