Access and Protection: Avoiding putting people at risk

In order to carry out their work for the protection of affected people, humanitarian actors need access to reach those people with needs assessments and services. But that access can bring with it negative consequences – for those receiving assistance or protection services, for focal points and contact persons, or for society as a whole. Knowing how to approach and address these potential risks related to access and protection is critical.

On 11 June, we held the third session of the webinar series on access and protection, which focused on issues related to when humanitarian actors have access, but either the access itself or the kinds of programming possible to carry out leads to protection risks

We were joined by a panel of experts who discussed some of the types of situations that practitioners face, including:

  • Assistance leads to risk of robbery or attacks: We are able to provide affected people with assistance but this puts them at risk of being robbed or attacked.
  • Affected people at risk when traveling to access assistance: We have access, but only to be able to deliver assistance and services to locations that force beneficiaries to travel, putting themselves at risk. 
  • Focal points are put at risk: We need to work through community leaders or focal points, but our visits and communication with them puts them at risk (perceived as giving power to them, cooperating with the government, etc.)
  • Protection services are putting people at risk: The fact that we are providing protection services to people puts them at risk due to the nature of the services.
  • Needs assessments are putting people at risk: The type of questions we need to ask and the data we collect can put the people we survey or interview at risk.
  • Programming is aggravating communal tensions: Humanitarian actors have access and are targeting the most vulnerable, but this is further aggravating tensions along ethnic or other dimensions.
  • Risk of bringing disease: We can access the communities, but we may bring disease and infect people (COVID-19, etc.)
  • Stigmatizing those receiving services: We can provide services to people affected by disease, but by doing so we are risking highlighting them as stigmatizing them in the community.
  • Stigmatizing humanitarian workers: Our access and services is increasing the stigma of humanitarian workers. 

Registrants had shared examples of these types of situations in advance in order to ensure that the discussions were as relevant as possible to their work.