08 February 2018
"There is a lot to see in Kiev, many attractions. It is the unknown city of Europe"
We discover Kiev (Ukraine) with Manuel Marión, deputy director of the UE-ACT project seconded to the city. He tells us some anecdotes and about his work within the framework of this European Commission-financed project that is managed by FIIAPP and aims to improve cooperation against drug trafficking and organised crime.
How have you adapted to this country?
It is easy to adapt to Kiev, its a large city where you can find everything. In front of my house I can buy good ham – it is not as expensive as you would image given that it is an imported luxury – and I can also buy olive oil and oranges from Spain.
Kiev has lots to see, many attractions: ballet, theatre… it is the great unknown city of Europe. And it would be worth investing in renovating some of the old buildings that are in the same style as those in the centre of Vienna, where I lived for ten years.
For me it is an advantage speaking Russian, I can more or less communicate with people. Despite the political situation and the promotion of the use of Ukrainian, everyone speaks Russian. The people are affectionate, although they do have a hard time opening up. Most of my neighbours do not even say good morning when you meet them in the lift, unless you know them from somewhere. There is a culture of mistrust, people think that everyone else is a spy or an a government agent who wants to pry into their private lives.
What was most difficult for you and what was least difficult?
It has not been the cold that has been most difficult thing for me. Perhaps understanding the logic used to number the buildings and entrances. On one occasion I took my dog to the vet and I could not find the entrance because it was camouflaged, until I saw a small sign in Russian saying: “Yes, this is the door!”
Is this your first experience outside Spain?
I have lived in different countries for many years: El Salvador, Guatemala, Vienna, Ukraine, etc. with spells in Spain and short periods in the Balkans. Your first experience abroad is the one that marks you in a significant way. The poverty – sometimes it is more misery than poverty – that there was in El Salvador made a great impression on me. I lived in a very rural area. I was amazed to see so many boys and girls walking to a distant school in the mornings, wearing immaculate white shirts.
In Guatamala I lived in the capital and what worried me the most was my family’s safety. There were a lot of kidnappings, a lot of people were “finished”, as they used to say on the news when they murdered someone.
What is your work like and your daily routine?
I travel a lot outside Ukraine, to Central Asia as well as to Africa and Europe. I am abroad for about half the month. I attend meetings we organise as part of the project to discuss the drug problem, mainly in five countries: Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Ukraine, Pakistan and Tanzania.
We have an office in Kiev, where I work with two other experts. I prepare reports, read those written by our experts, I support their activities, etc. Everyday I use Skype, WhatsApp or Viber to talk to various experts and counterparts who are in other countries and, of course, with FIIAPP in Madrid. Email is my main work and communication tool.
I recently spent two weeks in Tanzania, coordinating a team of experts from various countries to assess their ability to investigate the growing trafficking of drugs – mainly heroin – that arrive by sea from Afghanistan and then come to Europe. I also looked at their policy on drug use and the treatment of drug addicts. Incidentally, there is a Spanish NGO there working on their rehabilitation.
What is your relationship like with headquarters in Madrid? What about with your colleagues in Ukraine?
Friendly, without any problems. I mainly spend my time working with María, the programme coordinator, as we have an almost daily “battle” against bureaucratic red tape.
Every country has its customs, and the truth is that in Ukraine when you ask for a formal invoice everyone runs a mile. It is impossible. And I have to tell María that I urgently need some services or materials but they will not give me an invoice…
The team is Marta, Iván, David, and Mónica. They are all very nice and efficient in trying to help out. I should also mention Ana and especially Sara, who are a great help in the personnel department. I have worked with both of them for over ten years on other FIIAPP projects. I must also not forget Charo, in FIIAPP’s communications department.
How would you evaluate your experience of working as an FIIAPP expatriate in Ukraine?
It is a unique opportunity. Due to my frequent trips I do not spend much time in Kiev and I would like to get to know more about its culture, its beauty spots, museums, theatres and its surroundings. Kiev allows me to practice my Russian, which I have been studying for ten years. I travel to many Russian-speaking countries with the project and I am really pleased that I can speak their language. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and those times still have a great influence on the country, you have to live in these cultures to get to know them well.
Do you have any experiences or anecdotes about your arrival in the country?
One thing I noticed when I first arrived was seeing grandfathers and grandmothers working. Elderly people, retired people, their pensions are tiny and they cannot live on them. They have to keep on working at whatever they can, until they cannot work any longer as they are too old: they sell fruit, vegetables…so they can scrape together a few grivnas to live off.
At the bottom of the stairs in the metro stations there are old women “watching” to ensure everything is going well. The building caretakers are usually grandmothers, aged 70 or older. And it is impossible to see how they can do their job…The caretakers in my building – there are four who work in shifts and they work day and night – they subjected me to an interrogation to see who I was.
I was also struck by the fact that people are usually very reserved and seem sad. Although – and it can be contradictory – they like to party, just like we do, and there is a lot of night life, although not until as late as in Madrid. I really like salsa music and dancing and few cities have so many venues with Caribbean music and people to go dancing with.
27 October 2017
“The city of La Paz is about 3,600 metres above sea level, which is an initial handicap for the adaptation process.”
We turn our attention to fieldwork and look at Bolivia through the eyes of Santiago Santos Benitez, the technical coordinator of the project European support for the special counter-narcotics police force in Bolivia in application of the law.
How have you adapted to this country?
Well, I’ve really been working in Bolivia for 15 years. I spent two years in the north of the country, in Riberalta, Department of Beni. I knew Bolivia quite well and I’d been to La Paz several times.
The city of La Paz is about 3,600 metres above sea level, which is an initial handicap for the adaptation process. Whether or not you have already lived in this city, you have to acclimatise every time you return. As to other issues, it should be noted that Bolivians are very polite, friendly people, so adapting to Bolivian society is very easy. The culture, their ways of working, in fact we have lots of similarities that make the process easier.
La Paz is a city in the Chuquiago Marka valley so it is “protected” by mountain chains. This squeezes the city somewhat and limits its growth. This factor has made its urban growth very disorganised, creating a city set in the midst of chaos. When you walk around La Paz, you find myriads of streets and historical buildings alongside tall skyscrapers. At the beginning it can seem somewhat stifling; however, over time the chaos becomes this city’s special attraction.
What was most difficult for you and what was least difficult?
Personally, and this is not always true for everyone, it was adapting to the altitude that was the greatest handicap for me. La Paz is surrounded by high mountains and is constantly split up by steeply sloping streets, which in the beginning can be somewhat discouraging.
The easiest thing, let’s say, is adapting to the country itself because there are many similarities between our Spanish culture and Bolivian culture. Speaking the same language also makes adaptation much easier.
Is this your first experience outside of Spain?
I’ve been working outside of Spain for almost 15 years. My first posting was to Bolivia in 2003. I’ve worked mainly in East Africa in countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania. I’ve also worked in Asia, in India and Nepal.
What is your work like and your daily routine?
We try right from the first moment to link up with social institutions in the daily routine of the project. We work at the offices of our local Bolivian partner, the Secretariat for Coordination of CONALTID (National Drug Control Council) and we have a relationship of collaborating on and coordinating all the activities that we carry out as part of this project. We also work with many other Bolivian institutions, both public and private. Although we do most of our work in the office, which increases coordination with our local partner, we are constantly travelling to other departments since the project is a national one. As well as carrying out the duties of my position as Technical Coordinator, I also coordinate courses on combating people smuggling and trafficking. This means that I have to actively take part in these courses, many of which are held in other cities away from La Paz.
What is your relationship with headquarters in Madrid?
This is a fundamental aspect of the smooth running of the project. There is direct daily communication with Sergio Garrido, who is the person who handles all the economic management of the project from Madrid. Although we have a time difference of 6 hours between Madrid and La Paz we maintain very smooth, daily communication, which is very necessary for the smooth running of the activities. But we do not only work in coordination with Sergio, we also have the support of Mariano Guillén, Director of the Security and Justice Department, who gives us constant support. Another key department for cooperative relations between Bolivia and Spain is Communications. Through our colleagues, we publicise our activities in Spain, which plays a vital role not only in showing what is really happening in Bolivia and our link with the country through the project but also in public accountability.
What about your colleagues in Bolivia?
Teamwork and coordination are a cornerstone of keeping the project running smoothly. The team is made up of 6 people. There are three Spaniards and one French colleague. We also have the support of two Bolivian colleagues who have administrative and logistical duties and help us all the time with all the paperwork for bringing in foreign experts for the training courses that we carry out.
How would you evaluate your experience of working as an FIIAPP expatriate in Bolivia?
The FIIAPP is an institution with great experience in this type of project, which means working with highly specialised people. It is also an extremely professional organisation, which makes the work very much easier.
Do you have any experiences or anecdotes about your arrival in the country?
At the beginning, there were three public institutions participating in the project; however, little by little the number of institutions has increased. At the moment, we are working with about 20 institutions, including civil society. This is a real handicap when coordinating activities, courses and other things planned as part of the project. In my case, and it can be said that I have worked on dozens of projects, this is the first time that I found myself in the situation of dealing with such a wide range of institutions.
02 March 2017
We interview Javier Vega to learn about his experience on the African continent.
In our second article in the series on FIIAPP Expatriates, we interview Javier Vega-Barral, project officer of Application of the Rule of Law in the Horn of Africa and Yemen since 2016.
The objective of this project is to strengthen capacities and regional cooperation in counter-terrorism in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, focussing on training of the State security forces and their relationship to the rule of law. The project led by FIIAPP, as the European Commission’s delegated entity, includes the participation of agencies from the United Kingdom, France and Italy, and enjoys the support of the Ministry of the Interior (Secretariat of State for Security-SES), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, and the Ministry of Justice.
We talk to him about the project and his personal experience on the ground.
How was your arrival in the country?
I had already been in Nairobi for work, but as part of a short mission. So I already had some idea of the new environment, but obviously that idea was just a small slice of what it really means to be living in Nairobi.
Despite having been informed about my new field assignment in advance, I couldn’t help feeling that there was something I needed to finish before departing. I left my family behind during the first months to prepare for their arrival, but in parallel I was deeply involved in the different project tasks.
I arrived at the Nairobi airport at night, with the project manager (from the Ministry of the Interior) waiting to pick me up. It was raining hard that night, a typical rainy equatorial night. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but it was the first and only night of torrential rains that I had experienced up to then. It marked the end of the “long rains” season, which was especially unrelenting in 2016. But since then, almost all precipitation has been sporadic and has not kept drought from having been declared recently in a good part of Kenya, including Nairobi.
In those first months, I devoted myself exclusively to setting up the project office, establishing relationships with institutions to reinforce the work started by the project manager. I spent my free time arranging my definitive living situation and preparing for my family’s arrival.
What was the hardest thing you faced upon arriving?
The work we do on the ground by definition requires us to be multitaskers. So, at the same time as I was working with the experts on the content of the project, as a FIIAPP representative my main responsibility was to set up the project office and maintain strict control over the allocation and use of project funds.
That task is not just logistical but also one that involves intense institutional relations work. Due to the very nature of the activities and of the project, it’s impossible to separate institutional and personal relationships.
The professional profile of the various people involved makes it a closed and restricted circle in which you have to generate a significant level of trust before the institutions we want to work with will open their doors to us. We can never forget that we are foreigners and that in a matter as delicate as counter-terrorism, establishing a relationship of trust is an urgent and key task for being able to implement what the EU has entrusted to FIIAPP.
Another factor to consider is the fact that the EU is a relatively new actor in the region in terms of security issues. To overcome this unfamiliarity with the EU, it was essential to deploy recognised experts. These experts are from their same professional world and are capable of sharing common experiences, but with different perspectives and approaches, and, ultimately, capable of providing added value to their daily work.
Lastly, I would highlight the fact that, as this is a regional project, we cover an area of 5.7 million km2 with a population of 250 million inhabitants with racial, ethnic and religious differences which are often a source of conflict. This work of forming personal relationships implies the need for direct familiarity with the region and the people, and for maintaining contacts over time.
Being located in Nairobi helps to maintain these contacts, the face-to-face aspect, which is so important in local cultures for generating the necessary bonds of trust, and it requires an absolute availability to travel in the region. Due to the region’s infrastructure, these trips can often turn out to be more gruelling treks that you can imagine.
And the easiest part?
I don’t think anything has really been easy, but it is true that we are seeing good acceptance and a positive first assessment of the efforts of the EU, through FIIAPP, and of Spanish public administrations and the member states involved in the implementation of our activities.
On a personal level, I have to say that a Spanish passport opens many doors, or at least keeps them from closing. The reasons are various. Without a doubt, the fact that we have not had a historic presence in the region, the image of our society as an example of coexistence and overcoming backwardness or limitations, and even the positive image associated with the athletic achievements of the last decade, which I call “sport diplomacy”, positively affect our image, and that makes it easier to approach third parties.
How do you rate the experience of working as an expatriate?
Personally, and while it sounds less glamorous, I believe that we expatriates are first and foremost immigrants and that, as such, we face similar situations regardless of the reasons we had for leaving our country. In turn, migration conditions today are totally different; communication media makes it so that, thousands of kilometres away, people can maintain relationships on an almost daily basis with the reality of their country of origin. The expatriate or emigrant becomes an expert on Skype, Whatsapp and FaceTime connections.
In turn, the Internet makes it possible to stay in contact with Spanish society itself. I think that is extremely important, as one of the risks of being far from Spain is that we concentrate on our daily work and forget that we also represent our institutions, and for this reason, it is essential to take the pulse of Spanish and European societies.
Professionally, being abroad is an experience that I can only recommend; it allows contact with other cultures, but also helps you to acquire the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, which on a professional level means you to have more rapid and flexible responses to the unexpected, especially when working in international or multicultural environments.
And how do you rate doing this through an organisation like FIIAPP?
Working with FIIAPP means having access to the best professionals in the Spanish public administration, and thereby strengthening the presence of Spain, even in places where we previously have not had a significant presence, but which are geo-strategically very important for the EU as a whole and therefore also for our country.
Re-establishing security in the Horn of Africa and strengthening the rule of law should not be considered remote matters, as the impact on Spain can be direct. To illustrate, the majority of maritime traffic from Asia passes through the Red Sea and the waters of the Horn, and places like Valencia and Barcelona are some of the main destination ports for these Asian goods. Likewise, we all have heard about the problems that affected the Spanish fishing fleet some years ago in the Indian Ocean and which led to implementation of Operation Atalanta. Piracy in the region is closely linked to the phenomenon of terrorism. Terrorist recruitment in the Horn of Africa is also worth highlighting, not only in order to operate in the zone but also in order to combat it in the Sahel, and Libya in particular. Therefore, the challenges facing the states of the region are major, which, no doubt, adds relevance to the support provided by FIIAPP.
We would like to know more about the human side of your experience. Is there anything else you want to tell us?
Apart from my activity in FIIAPP, I had the opportunity to become familiar with some associations that focus on promoting employment for single mothers. As is the case all over the world, children are always the most vulnerable members of society. But in Africa this situation is, if possible, even more severe. It’s not rare to see destitute five- to ten-year children wandering the streets. Their powerlessness makes them particularly vulnerable to all types of abuses, and begging becomes their principal means of subsistence. The factors that lead to this situation are various, but in many cases these are the children of single mothers with no employment prospects.
In the area of Kangemi, a slum area, there is an association that does noteworthy work to support mothers, but also children, by increasing household income. An association called Mama Africa started a sewing workshop for women to develop basic skills that will give these women access to employment and to financial resources. Thanks to the efforts of this association, their work can be purchased in a shop located in the Kangemi neighbourhood, and it is also starting to become available in several shops in Nairobi.
19 January 2017
Vanessa Undiedt tells us about her personal experience in the field as a special envoy in Turkey.
Vanessa Untiedt lives in Ankara, Turkey, since 16th June 2016. She is a lawyer with the Spanish Justice Administration and a FIIAPP special envoy to Turkey. There, she worked on a Twinning project funded by the European Union aimed at strengthening the free legal aid system in the country.
Before Turkey, she had other opportunities to work in the field, in Croatia, Ukraine, Romania and Albania, but this is her first experience of long-duration.
At FIIAPP, we want to hear about her experience in the field.
This is the first in a series of interviews of expatriates working on FIIAPP projects in which they tell us about their field experiences with a personal and more human focus.
How has your adaptation to the country been?
My adaptation has been great. I came with my husband and three small children. They are going to the German school. We have met many people from different countries: Italy, France, United Kingdom, Laos, Japan, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Nicaragua… the experience is proving to be very enriching.
What has been the most difficult thing for you? And the least?
The hardest thing for me has been the political situation of the country. The coup occurred when I had been in Ankara for less than a month, and under those circumstances convincing your family in Spain that the situation is safe and you’re not going to abandon the project… is no easy task.
The least difficult thing? The day-to-day routine, the city, its rhythms and its customs. And, Turkey is a marvellous place for travelling, with so many places to discover.
Tell us about your work and your day-to-day experience.
My day-to-day experience at work depends a great deal on whether I’m working on an activity involving experts or not.
When you’re not implementing an activity, you have to be organising upcoming ones, thinking about how best to achieve the project objective, setting new objectives, locating the specialists who will be coming here to work, and explaining to them in detail what their task consists of.
When you’re implementing the activity, the week is full of meetings, seminars, conferences, workshops, and the pace is frenetic.
In what project areas are you most specialised?
The project has to do with free legal aid and, as a Justice Administration lawyer, I’m specialised in the relationship between free legal aid and the court, and between the court and the person who requests free legal aid.
How is your relationship with the main office in Madrid? And with your colleagues in Ankara?
I have a stupendous relationship with the main office in Madrid. I have daily contact with Esther Utrilla, who always answers my questions and is on the other side to listen to me and help me. Carolina Morales, Eva Aranda and, now, María Gutiérrez… The truth is that it’s a fantastic team.
In Ankara, I work in the Ministry of Justice and have two beneficiaries: the ministry itself and the country’s bar association. The relationship with them is not bad, but as there is a need to negotiate a great many things with both institutions, it’s not always easy.
In my office, my team is excellent. The project assistant and the interpreter are very helpful and we get along quite well, which makes our day-to-day work easier. In addition, the beneficiary country also has a resident consultant, a very hard-working judge. Lastly, the bar association also has a contact person with whom I work closely and very fluidly.
How would you rate the experience of working as a FIIAPP expatriate in Turkey?
Professionally, it’s the best experience I’ve ever had. Often it’s very stressful, other times it’s extremely frustrating because you ask yourself if the objectives are really going to be achieved. But then you realise that you are making progress, and that makes you feel completely satisfied. Every small achievement is a step forward that brings you closer to the objective.
Personally, my family and I are fully integrated into life in Ankara. We’ve become part of a fairly large group of people and we know people from different countries and cultures, which is enriching.
Is there anything else about your experience in the country that you would like to highlight?
Yes, I would like to say that being in Turkey and seeing the drama of the refugees up close, my husband and a group of volunteers are collaborating with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. They meet at someone’s house and prepare sandwiches for 100 people, 100 bottles of juice and 100 pieces of fruit, and they take all that to one of the Agency’s centres in Ankara, where the refugees have to wait for hours to get the compulsory interview to obtain legal refugee status. There’s a huge waiting room where entire families wait their turn. Seeing that there were so many children, and since the project I’m working involves contact with NGOs, a group of third-graders from the German school of Tenerife bought small toys which we’ve taken over to give to the children with the sandwiches.
It’s marvellous to unite: Spain – Turkey/Solidarity – children – refugees. Always with the project as the nexus, as we’ve gotten in contact through the NGOs we work with to study the possibility of handing out the toys.