Interview with Arezo Banafsheh, Monitoring Officer in the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine

Arezo Banafsheh, Norwegian Monitoring Officer with the SMMU - Photo:Private
Arezo Banafsheh from Norway works as Monitoring Officer for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (Photo: Private

The OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization, and most of its staff and resources are located in its field operations. The staff comes from all over the OSCE region, and several among them are Norwegians. In this series of interviews, we ask Norwegians working within the OSCE system to share stories about their work.

“We work in a conflict area, so security is the main challenge.” Arezo Banafsheh answers matter-of-factly when we ask her about the main challenges to her work. “We drive in convoys of at least two armoured vehicles accompanied by an international paramedic when close to the contact line. And you can imagine always having to wear our protective vests and helmets gets really hot in the summer months.”

Arezo works as a Monitoring Officer with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, where she acts as the Deputy Coordinator for the Human Dimension in Donetsk. She has been with the Mission since January 2017, but has been paying attention to the situation in Ukraine for much longer. “I first came to Ukraine as an election observer in 2014, and then again in 2015. So I have been following the establishment of the mission from its very beginning.”

“Another challenge is freedom of movement restrictions,” she continues. “Sometimes we are not allowed to enter certain villages to monitor the humanitarian situation of civilians, or access to certain places is denied due to presence of mines or unexploded ordnance.” The Special Monitoring Mission’s main task is gathering information and reporting on the security situation in the area, so unrestricted movement is important for the monitors. “The SMM conducts patrols in its area of operation on a daily basis. Each patrol team consists of a patrol leader and monitoring officers, and they are supported by Ukrainian national staff,” Arezo explains. “Depending on the patrol tasking we talk with civilians, local authorities, and—in non-government-controlled areas—members of the armed formations. We monitor the situation with internally displaced people, and visit weapon storage sites.”

Besides providing impartial information on these disparate topics, the SMM also facilitates dialogue and encourages the sides to agree on local adherences to the ceasefire so that critical infrastructure repair works can take place. Arezo highlights a situation where a bus with the workers at Donetsk Filtration Station (DFS) came under fire in April. “The DFS suspended its operation for several days, as the worker’s didn’t want to risk their lives,” she explains, “The situation was critical as the station is estimated to provide potable water to over 300.000 people on both sides of the contact line. The SMM successfully facilitated dialogue between the sides in order to renew the operations on the DFS, so that people wouldn’t suffer from the lack of drinking water.”

On the topic of interesting things she has learned from this job, she mentions the benefits of a diverse working environment. “The SMM has members from more than 44 participating states of the OSCE and from a diverse set of professional backgrounds. One of the most interesting things I have learned is the benefit of working together with such a diverse group of colleagues.”