Webinar series on access and protection: Access and protection: Avoiding putting people at risk

Banner for the webinar 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.

Target audience and event access

All humanitarian practitioners working in or with hard-to-reach areas, in particular in the areas of protection, access negotiations, and remote management.

Event polls

During the event, participants answered a number of polls about their recommendations for mitigating the types of risks discussed. Below are a selection of the recommendations submitted by participants.

What would be your number one recommendation for how to approach situations where assistance leads to risks of robbery or attacks?

  • Working with the community to carry out a risk assessment and identify mitigation measures.
  • In case where there are both host communities and refugees, ensure host communities are considered to avoid local community attacks.
  • Ensure timely distribution, start early and finish before dark, citing of the FDP should be closer to the settlement/villages
  • Engagement with perpetrators of the robbery before the distribution
  • Analyse the situation and plan for the risk mitigation process before implementing the programme (CBI programmes, for example).
  • Clear communications to the assistance team on what procedures to do in the event of a robbery - plan and prepare, so reaction will be smooth.
  • Robust risk assessment and community consultation
  • Monitor whether or not it is happening - too often agency PDM stops at delivery and assume people can use/spend aid safely.
  • Context analysis, participatory risk assessment and identification of mitigation measures together with the community.
  • If the distribution site is balanced because we are targeting deferent location/villages at the same time, then lets have the most vulnerable groups such as girls and women separately go to the closest place and maybe contract private transportation for them
  • Work with community in risk assessment and in managing during distributions
  • Before implementation, consult community, inclusive of AGD, on the modality they prefer
  • Risk assessment before implementation. Maintaining a low profile is another measure to overcome the issue of robbery and attack
  • Protection risk analysis fed by results of participatory assessments with the communities to understand risks and how to mitigate them
  • Include community in a local and gender-specific risk assessment both pre- and during the program
  • Consult with beneficiaries and other stakeholders to understand the causal relationships and reasons which might be difficult to uncover without open and participatory communication
  • Communicate raise awareness and give voice to the vulnerable population that they have accessible means of complaint and denunciation in case of abuse and can anonymously denounce any abuse.
  • Good communication with locals and include a lot of stakeholders, creating acceptance and trust.
  • Risk assessment ahead of implementation including with community.
  • Digitize access to cash assistance (eg. mobile money) to reduce the dependency on a centralized distribution point.
  • Provision of NFI at spots far from residence entailing beneficiaries carry the items on their own. Recommendation: to deliver NFIs to houses
  • Consider the ways in which a person's access to support can be anonymized (e.g. through one-stop community centres providing multiple services to avoid going to peoples homes, building or developing such centres walking distance from people's homes).
  • Work with local authorities as the ultimate duty bearers to facilitate humanitarian response.
  • As our panelists have emphasized, engaging the community on appropriate solutions to ensure safety.
  • Activate community protection measures like community patrols and committees. Build a sense of ownership of the assistance with the community.
  • Assess the situation before assistance, what would be good for the affected people and would likely to increase vulnerability to the affected people?
  • Focus on the highest risk, both where these occur and when - not forgetting night-time!
  • Have key persons within the community to communicate; distribution can also be announced one day prior and ad hoc in order to mitigate the robbery risks/attacks - communication is key and how and with whom you communicate regarding a distribution.
  • Identify good local partners and collaborate with them on how to develop with the activities.
  • Consult the community for their preferred locations for distributions, if door to door distributions are needed, and the safest times of day to deliver assistance.

What would be your number one recommendation for how to approach situations where focal points are put at risk?

  • Use traditional / acceptable activities that aren't perceived as threatening by armed groups to tackle protection issues.
  • Community engagement and thorough sensitization to enhance transparency.
  • The focal points should work closely with community leaders and local vigilante group behind the scene to provide quick support whenever necessary as some of the attacks are mostly by few group of thugs or small criminals minds in the locality
  • Involving the community in identifying the focal points for "legitimacy" and transparent and wide communication about the role of the focal points.
  • IDS recommends 'Develop programmes which provide opportunities to overcome fear, to rebuild confidence and trust.' - https://www.ids.ac.uk/publications/empowerment-and-accountability-in-difficult-settings-what-are-we-learning/
  • Ensure there are feedback mechanisms the community can use, plus consistent and regular communications and sensitization with the communities about role of focal points.
  • Engage the focal points actively in the risk analysis.
  • Conduct the risk analysis with the community and focal points as agents of the process.
  • Avoid exposing them in the sense where we should still be visible, in the front line to provide assistance and respond to community concerns.
  • Focus on activities that will promote community acceptance of the organization. Build partnerships or collaboration with local structures, or grass root organization that enjoy community influence.
  • Focal point themselves in the centre of risk analysis.
  • Ask them how we can reduce their risks instead of deciding for them and actually listen and mutually agree on the role of focal points.

What would be your number one recommendation for how to approach situations where programming risks aggravating communal tensions?

  • Conflict sensitive analysis
  • A good risk analysis and conflict sensitivity could be a step in the right direction. Understanding the community dynamics and finding possible connectors.
  • Inclusivity of all groups in the planning phases and communications to all about criteria.
  • Ensure that the affected community is well informed on the programme design, nature, eligibility criteria and objectives of the programme.
  • AGD approach - including host community.
  • Ensure all groups are represented in assessment stage, ensure all staff clearly understand vulnerability criteria and are supported to understand how to articulate these to the community, robust complaints mechanism.
  • Do no harm exercise with the participation of the communities PRIOR to starting the programming. Also base intervention on needs (thorough assessment) rather than be driven by funding opportunities.
  • Ensure you understand the community dynamic and potential tension between the dynamics. Involve all parties in identifying vulnerability criteria and the most vulnerable.
  • Advocate for sufficient funding for humanitarian responses! This issue is often bigger than us, and we're dealing with underfunded responses that push us into a difficult position as humanitarians when it comes to targeting.
  • Clear/transparent communication towards community and well in advance/before intervention in order to solve problems and doubts within the community.
  • A conflict sensitive risk assessment with the community and seeking ways to alternative measures to prevent tensions. Also community consultations and prioritizing together.
  • Couple actions with social cohesion programming.

What would be your number one recommendation for how to approach situations where protection services are putting people at risk?

  • We should design programmes that are inclusive for example an activity targeting IDPs should also include some people from the host community or if it is a food assistance for asset activity we can include some labour constrained households.
  • When it comes to stigmatisation, advocacy and awareness-raising with non-affected communities is indispensable.
  • Co-ordination! In the lighting project mentioned earlier, just lighting toilets led to people gathering around to socialise as it was the only light available. Later on, protection installed lighting at temporary water collection points.
  • Bring services closer to the people in need; for instance mobile legal desks, explore working through legal representatives.
  • Assess security as a whole and provide holistic protection together with the government.

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Mohammed Allaw Mohammed Allaw Protection Cluster Co-Coordinator, Yemen
Andrea Castorina Andrea Castorina Regional Programme and Policy Officer (Protection and AAP), WFP
Sam Duerden Sam Duerden Director, Humanitarian Access, International Rescue Committee
Melanie Kesmaecker-Wissing Melanie Kesmaecker-Wissing Protection Advisor – Global Humanitarian Team, Oxfam