A catch-up with Becki Curtis, Jersey’s third UN Junior Protection Officer (UN JPO)

09 February 2024 | Becki Curtis
Becki shares her experiences and what the role has involved since relocating to Cairo, Egypt early last year, to take up her role with UNHCR Egypt as an Associate Protection Officer.

Nearly a year has passed since I joined UNHCR Egypt, during which time the operation has transformed drastically in order to respond to multiple conflicts that have erupted in the region. On 15th April 2023 fighting broke out in Sudan, resulting in the first declaration of a UNHCR Emergency in Egypt since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. Since October, civilians in Gaza have been subjected to bombardment and ground attacks, resulting in a second declaration of a UNHCR Emergency and Egypt becoming a frontline in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid across the border.

During this time, I have had the honour of working face-to-face with both new arrivals and existing refugees, alongside committed colleagues delivering frontline services and support. In addition, I have also had the opportunity to be central to coordination efforts in response to the Sudanese crisis, adapting to a changing context amongst dedicated and experienced humanitarians.


Mobilising for Sudan

When conflict first broke out in Sudan, thousands of people began to cross into Egypt every day, seeking safety and security. Many people arrived in desperate need of basic assistance such as water and hygiene kits, having exhausted everything in their efforts to escape Sudan.

With humanitarian organisations struggling to balance existing needs with reallocation of resources in response to the new influx, and the need for a humanitarian presence in the south of Egypt to meet the growing needs of new arrivals, it was increasingly essential that humanitarian organisations coordinated their work in an effort to respond to the most urgent needs. During this period, Egypt’s Protection Working Group – a coordination forum for NGOs and international agencies undertaking protection activities in Egypt – became a key tool in responding to the emergency through the sharing of updates, identification of priorities, and harmonisation of life-saving support and services. I found myself at the heart of the emergency, facilitating information-sharing and the streamlining of assistance amidst a rapidly changing context. To further maximise resources and reduce duplication, we also developed an interagency appeal for assistance to respond to the needs arising as a result of the Sudan crisis, meaning that I gained valuable experience in strategizing an emergency response.

As part of UNHCR’s own efforts to expand its registration services to meet the growing numbers of new arrivals, the operation began conducting registration six days a week. Over summer I became an honorary Registration Officer, part of the volunteer team working weekends to interview those arriving from Sudan and register them with UNHCR as asylum seekers. In this role I met a diverse array of people, from unaccompanied children who must now navigate life in a new country, to lawyers and entrepreneurs who spent years building businesses only to have them destroyed by the conflict. Some had suffered or witnessed harrowing violence on their journeys to Egypt, others were separated from their partners or children, desperate but no longer able to communicate with them. I also heard stories of the great generosity and strength, from those who – whilst fleeing their home – had also supported strangers along the journey, to local and refugee communities that opened their doors to new arrivals and welcomed them as family. The experience was incredibly humbling and a reminder that, here in Egypt, communities are the foremost providers of humanitarian assistance for many in need.


Challenges & Transformations

2023 was not only a challenging year for those fleeing conflict in Sudan. Throughout the year, the socio-economic situation in Egypt continued to deteriorate, with soaring costs resulting in increased hardship and vulnerability. In some areas, rent increased by 400%, whilst the arrival of hundreds of thousands of new refugees resulted in additional pressures on refugee communities and heightened social tension.

In order to enhance UNHCR’s ability to respond to the rising number of people approaching the office seeking support, I was assigned the dynamic new responsibility of Protection Reception Coordinator. At the Protection Reception, refugees and asylum seekers can speak to a Protection Officer and share their concerns, which are often incidents of violence, homelessness, and exploitation. Staff then assess whether there is any support that could assist the individual – perhaps legal aid, psychosocial support, or emergency housing – and provide guidance and referrals accordingly. For these Protection Officers, it’s a heavy responsibility, listening and responding to countless stories of trauma and hardship. The dedication and kindness these colleagues bring to work every day is inspirational and I am grateful to have this opportunity to work alongside them.

This role also means that every day I spend time amongst the crowds and at the Protection Reception, ensuring the frontline team are supported and responding to issues as they arise. With nearly 2,000 people approaching the office daily, every day brings new and unique challenges, as well as small victories, such as when we’re able to provide someone with a life-changing service.



Since I first arrived in Cairo, the refugee population has increased 50%, with over 450,000 refugees and asylum seekers now registered with UNHCR Egypt. For me personally, and for the operation, it has been a transformational year during which I have learnt greatly from a wide range of supportive colleagues, many of whom I am grateful to also call my good friends. However, with no sign of peace in Sudan, a deepening catastrophe in Gaza, and growing economic fragility, it is evident that the year ahead will be challenging across the region.