Humanitarian protection is often the most needed in the very conflict zones where access is also the most restricted. Whether in areas controlled by armed groups or government forces, in situations when civilians have their basic rights and physical safety threatened, humanitarians carrying out protection work and advocacy are likely to face actors trying to restrict their access and ability to operate, or simply keep them out.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to sudden changes in how protection actors can access populations of concern, with additional restrictions on how they are able to operate in the short and medium term. What can we learn from the experience of protection actors operating in hard-to-reach areas that we can apply to the new challenges of the current operational environment?
On 22 April, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), PHAP, and the Global Protection Cluster (GPC) organized the first of a series of webinars on access and humanitarian protection. The event provided an overview of the key terms, concepts, interlinkages, and dilemmas of protection and access in armed conflict, disaster, and health emergencies. What are the main protection concerns particular to hard-to-reach areas? What challenges do protection actors face in terms of access? Are maintaining access and protection priorities at cross purposes or can they help reinforce each other? This introduction was followed by a discussion with protection experts, exploring the ways in which existing lessons from protection programming in hard-to-reach areas can be applied to protection operations in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak.