‘Every Effort is Important’: A Talk with Alumna Elizabeth Warn

April 1, 2022

CEU alumna Elizabeth Warn (IRES ’01, UK) serves as Deputy Chief of Mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Kyiv, Ukraine. And since the onset of the war, on February 24, 2022, she and her colleagues have been struggling to mitigate a catastrophe – and assist millions of displaced persons and refugees.

In nearly 20 years with this UN agency, Elizabeth has served in posts around the world, including Albania, South Africa, Argentina, and others. She became IOM Deputy Chief of Mission in Ukraine in March 2021. We caught up with Elizabeth to ask her about the situation on the ground, how alumni can help, and how her CEU experience factors into her important work.

What’s the most important aspect of your work as Deputy COM at IOM Kyiv?  

Since the war began the most important part of my work has been to support my colleagues and create conditions so that they can help those most in need in Ukraine, especially the more than 6.4 million people displaced within the country and the more than 3 million refugees who have fled, including foreign nationals. 

I want to take this opportunity to give special recognition to people in Ukraine, including my IOM colleagues and others who have been incredibly brave, resilient and dedicated. Many of them have been working 15 hours a day every day, while also relocating their families to safer areas in Ukraine or beyond. IOM staff and our partners are working under circumstances which often put them at personal risk, including bombing and shelling. Families have been separated and lives destroyed. After more than 20 years working with IOM, I am very proud of the dedication of our team. 

How has the war affected your work?  

IOM has provided humanitarian assistance to the people of the Donbas region of Ukraine since 2015, but the war has caused this assistance to become a priority throughout the country. The needs are immense as are the challenges. We have all had to adjust and pitch in to provide information and help distribute food, blankets and other supplies. Personally, I have been astounded by the generosity and the innumerable offers of support and assistance from all over the globe. 

What’s the most challenging thing you’re dealing with now?  

The greatest challenge in our work right now is being able to get basic supplies to those most in need, especially people living in areas hardest hit, subject to weeks of bombardment. Humanitarian corridors have been set up, but these corridors are not always respected.

What’s one thing alumni can do to help?

One of the most important things our CEU alumni can do is to keep the needs of people inside Ukraine and refugees from Ukraine in the spotlight. What we are witnessing is an unprecedented human catastrophe on a scale not seen since World War Two.  CEU is amazing as it has alumni and students all over the world who can, in their respective countries, highlight the plight of ordinary people whose lives have been turned upside down and devastated. I hope that CEU alumni and students will continue to be active in any way that they can in the countries they are in; every effort is important!  

How has CEU influenced your career?  

My experience with CEU and an IRES student has been seminal and shaped my entire career and my way of thinking. I can’t thank CEU enough for having given me the chance of a lifetime.  Over the years, my friends and fellow alumni have now gone on to take up extremely influential positions in government, the private sector, international organizations and elsewhere.  I will be eternally grateful to CEU as it made me understand the importance of thinking internationally.