Elisa Bianchini, an intern on the DRC Standby Roster, had the opportunity to interview Raul Gualtruzzi. With a strong background and experience in protection and resettlement, Raul is currently deployed with DRC as a Resettlement Expert in Tecun Uman field unit in a UNHCR Guatemala operation. He is responsible for assessing resettlement cases of people at risk coming from other countries in the region, conducting interviews and identifying individuals’ protection needs.
Stories from the field: Interview with a Resettlement expert deployed to Guatemala
Raul Gualtruzzi is a member of the DRC Resettlement Roster and has been deployed to Guatemala as a Resettlement Expert since 1st August 2023. During his DRC-UNHCR deployment (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), he was sent to Tecun Uman to support the resettlement operations and to carry out case assessments.
1. Can you describe your typical workday?
I am working as Resettlement Expert in the field office in Tecun Uman, and I am in charge of two departments called San Marcos and Quetzaltenango. In my responsibility, I take interviews on singular cases, and I draft reports to be submitted to the resettlement countries.
Every week I interview three or four cases. Since in Guatemala is very difficult to reach the people, many times I take interviews online. It is quite challenging but really interesting. My responsibility involves a lot of preliminary case-based preparation. When a case is assigned to me, I receive a report from other units or partner agencies who have done the pre-screening and analysis of the case already.
This preparation is really important, as the success of the interview depends a lot on pre-understanding the specific case and context, in order to select the right questions to ask.
2. What are the main countries that the people you interview come from? And what are the most common stories that you hear in the cases that you assess?
Guatemala is a very particular country. It is a transit country due to its geographical location, and receives many people from Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and more, who are trying to reach Northern countries like the United States and Canada.
These people come with a lot of vulnerabilities and specific needs for assistance.
Moreover, Guatemala is also a country where many people are fleeing from violence and criminality and are therefore also trying to reach Northern countries. More recently, Guatemala is becoming a country of destination for people who see this country as a possible future and try to apply for asylum here.
There are also Guatemalan people who were deported from the Northern countries who are in need of protection. As you can see, the operation works with a very mixed group of people.
Among the specific cases that I deal with, the most common reasons for migration are sexual and gender-based violence, threats by gangs and criminal groups (which are present in all of Central America), conflicts between local communities, and those threatened because they have been defending human rights in their home country.
As well we provide the assistance to Guatemalans in the local communities who we identify as being at risk of fleeing the country because of violence or persecution. It is really important that we can identify the people at risk when they are in their country of origin, in order to provide assistance and prevent displacement.
3. Can you elaborate more on the cases of sexual and gender-based violence?
The sexual violence experienced by these women is mainly local and domestic, but also during the transit from the country of origin all women face many risks of harassment and violence.
I see a lot of trauma, as domestic abuse has been happening for many years, maybe an entire life. So, they are women who have been suffering a lot, single women with many children, who were forced to flee their homes, leave their jobs, do not have economic means to support their children. It is a very difficult situation for them.
4. What are the main countries of relocation?
The United States and Canada are the principal ones, because of their humanitarian support programs and as well due to geographic proximity.
Moreover, in the US there is a huge Spanish speaking diaspora so it is very common that people try to reach this country because they have families or friends who can support them during the journey as well as when they arrive.
5. Which is the most interesting part of your work?
The most interesting aspect for me is being part of a huge humanitarian operation.
Guatemala is one of the countries with the biggest quotas, and with the recent political change in the US, its humanitarian operation will be strengthened, with new centers soon to be opened. Therefore, we will contribute to a big extent to these changes, and it is amazing to be part of that.
6. What are your main learnings regarding resettlement and the context of Central America?
I have previously worked in Argentina and, due to the country´s location, there were not many refugees coming. Therefore, in terms of humanitarian assistance, the operation and work were really small in comparison to Guatemala. The context in Guatemala is different.
We can see a lot of violence and gangs which are present in the daily life of people. Also, Guatemala is a country of transit for many people from Central and South America, which is very challenging for humanitarian operations.
In terms of resettlement, I have learned a lot and I am proud of my work, because I think that Resettlement will grow in the coming years as a durable solution. The protection measures we implement in Guatemala aim to address the root causes of displacement, help people before they flee, and prevent all the risks connected to forced displacement, including human trafficking, violence, sexual abuse, and more.
I see the value of it, it works and there is hope. It is beautiful to see how the cases you are working on progress, to see these people happy and relieved about the new possibilities they have without being forced to migrate.
For these people it is extremely difficult to flee the country, especially for women traveling on their own with children, without any money and with all the risks connected. We are able to give them alternative options though durable solutions.
7. Which is the most challenging part of your work?
Tecun Uman is a hard location to work in. First, it is a remote location: traveling to the capital city takes 7 to 8 hours by car due to traffic and lack of infrastructure. Second, it is challenging because of the lack of choices that you have in the town. For example, there is only one grocery store, and only two restaurants where you can eat. The weather is hot, around 40 degrees, and very humid.
We also have electricity cuts from time to time. But all my colleagues live together in the same building, and we rely on each other, so it´s amazing because in this difficult context, the relationships you develop with colleagues are closer than just a work relationship, we become real friends and we help each other in all aspects of life.
My colleagues come from all over the world, and living in an international environment is always stimulating - you get to know a lot about other countries and lives.
8. Do you face any security threats, in your work or in your life in Guatemala? Do you feel comfortable to be outside and have social life?
You have to be very careful in the place you live, how you move around the town, the people you trust. You must be aware of the context and try to reduce the risks. We rely a lot on colleagues, we move and travel together, we are always in connection, either through text messages or by sharing our location.
It is difficult sometimes, but you get used to it, and if you follow the security measures you are safe.
9. How are you coping with the stress and emotional impacts of your job, do you have strategies for your wellbeing? Has your experience in Resettlement and protection prepared you for this current situation?
My previous experience in Brazil, on the border with Venezuela, has provided me with many skills to face this type of the stress. I was a protection officer for Operação Acolhida, the humanitarian operation of the Brazilian government to protect people coming from Venezuela.
I was at the border, in a triage unit trying to identify the most vulnerable cases in order to give them a prompt response. That context was tough and has prepared me. Here, I try to travel as much as I can with colleagues, to take a break from Tecun Uman and at the same time get to know the country where we are working.
I also cook a lot with colleagues, I watch movies, and I go to therapy of course. I still try to maintain my free time and a normal life despite working in a difficult context. There are many resources that are provided by the UN and DRC in order to detect situations of stress, prevent and cope with vicarious trauma.
I have to say that one of the most important elements is the support from colleagues and a good work environment. This is what makes you feel happy where you are, even in a difficult location like Tecun Uman.
10. What do you foresee for the future situation in Guatemala and the needs in that area?
I must say that the situation in Central America differs a lot from country to country, depending on the political situation, the legal procedures to apply for asylum, and other aspects which impact the type of humanitarian operation.
Also, we can see that in many countries like Nicaragua or El Salvador, the situation keeps changing a lot and this impacts the conditions of people fleeing from these countries.
Sadly, I foresee still a lot of displacement in this area in the future, because of the political situation of the countries, poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunities.