Education is the answer
From Siberia to South Sudan, an inspirational interview with Iakheiidin Mirzashev (who goes by the name Yasha), about his approach to studying the MA Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies while working in different countries. Yasha was awarded the Guy S. Goodwin-Gill Scholarship.
Tell me a bit about where you are from and have you study previously? I am from Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, a wonderful country with magical mountains. I have a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Tomsk, Siberia which is in Russia.
Why did you choose to study this programme, and why specifically the University of London? When I studied in high school many years ago I remembered that the University of London through the Red Cross supported British Prisoners of War in Germany during World War II with distance education. I was amazed then, thinking how Great Britain supported its citizens in this global war with access to education. I never thought one day I would be a student of this University.
I choose the programme because it’s related to my work of supporting refugees and internally displaced populations. The tradition, very well-known alumni and the high quality of education in Great Britain helped me finally decide on the University of London.
Which module did you enjoy studying the most on the programme? The module tutors and my virtual classmates made each module more interesting. My favourite module was Securing refugee protection in practice. It’s close to my heart, as a Protection Manager and it was mind changing for me at times. It had great reading materials and also the weekly input in the Virtual Learning Environment platform.
How did you find managing your studies around your life and work? To be honest, it wasn’t easy at all to do both in the same time. Sometimes it was very challenging to find a time to read the materials and prepare weekly inputs for a particular topic.
During a hectic moment I did consider stopping. When I worked in South Sudan I had a series of field visits and many project related reports due. I couldn’t find a moment to sit down to read the module materials. I was very lucky to have my close colleagues, Anna and Muneyi, from the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) to convince me not to give up. They supported me through it and I’m very happy and proud I didn’t give up. Motivation is vital, but in the same time it's very important to have friends around to support you in such moments.
What did you think of quality of the study materials and resources? I truly enjoyed reading resources from the online library. There were some books that I had dreamt about reading but couldn’t afford to buy. The resources provided by the University were class A. Different opinions and world-renowned experts on human rights law, refugee law, different conventions and agreements were really impressive and helped me to learn and change my views on some of the aspects of the humanitarian work in the field.
What did you base your dissertation on and how did you prepare? It was related to research on the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) reintegration in South Sudan. Back then I worked with the DRC in South Sudan. With the skills I gained I developed research work, based on my practical experience from the field and the academic skills I received from the University of London.
Already being in the field for more than a year, the comprehensive field research went relevantly smoothly. It actually went very well due to the support from my supervisor Professor Cantor. I was a bit anxious at the beginning as the dissertation was a first for me. Professor Cantor was patient and supportive. He explained that the first steps to do, how to plan, and what I needed to pay attention to in the field.
I was thrilled to finish the research, this dissertation is definitely one of my best achievements in my life so far.
Can you tell me about your work and which parts you enjoy as well as the difficult parts? I worked in the Ukraine with refugees when I applied for this MA. I took my first core module exams in Kyiv, Ukraine in the British Council office. Then I started work in South Sudan with DRC, and now, in Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh, also with the DRC. I really enjoyed that!
I am currently working as Protection Manager with DRC, one of the leading humanitarian organisations in the world in the protection sector. DRC gave me a space to explore my skills in practice, including those I received during my studies.
The most enjoyable part is seeing the positive impact of my work in the lives of refugees or displaced people. When they greet you as you are one of them, or when their family trusts you.
The difficult part is when you have the trust of people you do bear great responsibility. I am always aware our actions or non-actions could cause harm to some of the most vulnerable people. We humanitarians need to be sensitive in our work.
I always hope that refugees will be at home one day to live a peaceful life together with their families, friends and loved ones. I hope these difficult and challenging times in displacement will be gone. It can sound a bit naïve, but I believe that our world will one day get better.
Were there useful skills or knowledge from your degree that you were able to apply in your work? This programme, I can say with confidence not only improved my work but also helped me shape some of my views on humanitarian affairs. I learned great skills in refugee, human rights and humanitarian law. I now know about statelessness and asylum, about Geneva conventions, child rights, women rights, about regional conventions and how UN works in terms of human rights. I became a humanitarian professional with knowledge of important legal components. I use the above skills in training sessions during my work and I’ve shared those with my colleagues.
What are your future plans and aspirations and where do you see yourself in 5 years' time? Right now I am helping Rohingya Refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. I’m not sure where I will go next but I am confident with the proper knowledge in Refugee and IDP legal tools, I can now help people in need anywhere.