Webinar series on access and protection: Coordinating access for humanitarian protection

Banner for the webinar Coordinating access for humanitarian protection

In most crisis response contexts, multiple protection actors are seeking to access affected populations. As humanitarian actors are interdependent, with the actions of one affecting all other actors in a response context, they often face situations where there are coordination challenges related to access and protection.  

On 25 June, PHAP, NRC, and the GPC organized the fourth session of the webinar series on access and protection, which focused on issues related to coordinated negotiations and approaches to access – including the use of armed escorts, civil-military coordination, and coordination with peacekeeping missions – and how these relate to protection.

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


  • Authorities try to divide humanitarian agencies: The authorities insist on negotiating with individual agencies in order to find the agencies that will accept conditioned access (restricted beneficiaries, searches, only assistance), which undermines shared strategies.
  • Agencies have different protection priorities: Different agencies have different red lines and different prioritization of protection concerns leading to difficulties to agree on common positions.
  • Access risked by programming or advocacy of partner agency: We are coordinating our access approach with other agencies. Another agency behaves in a way which is risking all agencies’ access (issues a report on sensitive protection issues, etc.).
  • Access risked by poor behavior of staff of partner agency: A partner agency is operating in a way that is having a negative impact on perceptions of all humanitarian actors (poor procedures, abusive staff behavior, etc.)
  • Advocacy the only common negotiation position possible: We have difficulties to agree among agencies on negotiation points regarding protection – increased advocacy is the only thing that can be agreed on, not stronger protection programming.
  • Coordinating which programming gets priority when access is limited: For example, in COVID-19 times, only a minimum of staff should have access – how can we coordinate to make the best use of limited access?

Use of armed escorts and civ-mil coordination

  • Poor security situation requiring armed escorts: The security situation is so bad that we need to have military escorts in order to access communities.
  • Armed escorts required by government or armed group: The government or armed group is requiring an escort to allow access, threatening the neutrality of the actor. Alternatively, the government requires government staff to be present at all times.
  • Limited physical access requires use of military equipment: The physical access is limited and only the military has the needed equipment to reach it (e.g. chopper needed to reach community when there are no roads)

Registrants were encouraged to share 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 how to respond to the types of challenges discussed. Below are a selection of the recommendations submitted by participants.

What would be your number one recommendation for how to approach situations where authorities try to divide humanitarian agencies?

  • A chief recommendation is to fully understand the amount of time it takes to understand local contexts to operate successfully/safely – whether armed escorts are used, debated or refused. Local contexts are often far more nuanced than we want to know.
  • Utilize a neutral influential organization (OCHA, ICRC, donor, etc) to assist
  • Ensuring that the coordination system is strong and that there is fair /equal treatment of actors (both NGOs and UN)
  • Need to advocate strongly for fostering coordination of authorities and NGOs most of the time UN aliens with government and UN should initiate to involve NGOs
  • Coordination on NGO policies & inter agency/cluster lead guidelines
  • Advocate for joint planning, monitoring, and strong sector/cluster coordination group
  • NGOs should build synergy within their sister organizations and approach local authorities as a block to negotiate access. They should set up weekly coordination meetings where they share updates and strategy. This is a better way to manage local actors.
  • Establish trust with the authorities and maintain this relationship once built
  • Coordination with international actors and hire local stakeholders for implementation and coordination at national level and use the clusters as platform to raise the voice.
  • Ensure that there is clear coordination mechanisms (whether formal or informal) in place so that agencies know where to turn when they get requests from authorities.
  • Involve local NGOs in the same coordination platform
  • Humanitarian agencies should form a joint front for negotiations. There is strength in numbers.
  • Establish trust and openness to all humanitarian agencies in that specific location
  • Start communication between humanitarian agencies in advance and communicate early when such thing happens.
  • Communication between the different agencies/NGOs & cluster meetings
  • Make use of HCT
  • Involve OCHA and Humanitarian Coordinator
  • Coordination with OCHA or Resident Coordinator
  • Solidarity and unity among all partners as one voice
  • Broaden coordination to development and diplomatic actors
  • Dialogue and advocacy
  • Coordinated advocacy
  • Negotiation, get them involved

What would be your number one recommendation for how to approach situations where access is challenged due to differing protection priorities of humanitarian agencies?

  • Establishment of very strong and functional sector/cluster coordination group with full backing of OCHA and establishing good working relationship with local authority by activating community based system in some of the task
  • Assess protection priorities in consultation with other humanitarian agencies and form a consensus through coordinated efforts
  • Coordination between agencies to better understand issues and ensure that there are no gaps in support
  • 3W coordination – Who does What and Where?
  • Coordination with all humanitarian actors for a collective approach
  • Ensure complementarity of actions as well as complementarity of protection principles
  • Having strong area protection cluster coordination
  • More important to consider protection priorities of affected communities and these should jointly guide the humanitarian actors
  • Set up a joint communication strategy
  • Make sure you understand the differences in advance so that you are not surprised by the decisions of others.
  • Understand how different actors conceive of risk in their work to ensure that it is possible to get to a meaningful shared understanding of the collective priorities
  • depending on the context, risk assessment to identify the type of protection issues influenced by context; access is challenged - to have a strong coordinated approach of all humanitarian agencies
  • Critically evaluate your own operations, values and protection priorities and map those of others.
  • It is better to build rapport/acceptance and clearly emphasize that different agencies take different protection priorities

What would be your number one recommendation for how to approach situations where access for protection is risked by the behavior of other organizations and their staff?

  • Build strong understanding of your mission and who you are so that you can be distinguished among community members.
  • Strong advocacy within NGO coordination groups for respect of humanitarian principles and codes of conduct
  • Contact hierarchy of organisation with risky behaviors or report to a coordination platform if there is one. If not resolved then contact local or national authorities to resolve the situation.
  • To identify the nature of the risk, get in contact with the probable leaders of the risk or local communities leaders and administrative authorities.
  • Offer training and encourage professionalism through certification and affiliation
  • Capacity building of the actors
  • Continuous engagement with communities and negotiations with all parties to the conflict
  • Poor behavior of organizations always stem from poor management style and bad attitudes of Senior manager. To address this, organization should ensure that who is going to lead or participate in a ewprotection operation is routinely assessed
  • Report such misconduct to NGO forum or OCHA for engagement with the reported NGO
  • Engage in meaningful community engagement and transparency
  • Honest inter-organisational engagement in an atmosphere where the specific behaviours are discussed might help. The assumption is that the involved organisations adhere to commonly accepted code of conduct that can be referenced
  • Liasing with HCT / country-level coordination structures
  • Communication, announcement in advance, contact local leaders to pass the message
  • Start access from the community leaders and administratives authorities
  • Strengthening accountability to affected populations to both help address the underlying issue and to limit the effects of individual incidents.
  • Building staff capacity to apply code of conduct
  • If such behavior is against the norms of humanitarian work, report such organisations to the authorities.
  • Continuous engagement with communities and negotiations with all parties to the conflict
  • Resources efforts and due diligence checks at the stage of hiring staff for humanitarian organizations

What would be your number one recommendation for how to approach situations where armed escorts may be necessary in order to gain access for protection programming?

  • I think one of the vital issues to look up in areas where security is low to both beneficiaries and service providers is to DO SECURITY ANALYSIS...then we ensure we have security briefings before travels but in turn we should provide awareness
  • Promote security of zones before interventions - armed escorts become a money making machine for armed carriers and makes humanitarians almost legitimate military targets
  • Last resort only and try to ensure you have an officer or SNCO in the escorts to ensure professionalism
  • I do not recommend armed escorts to gain access for protection programming so that the group of armed people will not have the reason to attack by forces except the offer is coming from the authority of the country.
  • Armed escort is accepted only when the humanitarian organization is sure that they are at risk assessing the field and time lines can not be changed to carry out the activities. If armed escort is not really needed, forced advocacy and lobbying needed
  • Using armed escorts should be considered as a last resort in order to avoid becoming a norm
  • This should come as a last resort after exhausting all other available options.
  • I do not recommend use of armed escort. However, where it is explicitly necessary to save lives, maintain a low key approach.
  • First assess the threat and ensure that the level of risk could be acceptable. Approach government authorities for armed escorts or if that is not available approach a reported private agency.
  • Armed escorts should be very well trained, they should be locals and knowing well the context, their uniforms should differ from the national army or police ones
  • Last resort and management's repeated engagement on that matter ensuring that both staff, partners and donors do understand that it can be better to postpone, assess and re-discuss again access conditions rather than jeopardizing operations
  • To provide a clear communication previously to the communities on why the NGO is using armed escorts to gain access in order to mitigate the confusion regarding the activities of the NGO's staff
  • First of all, make sure that the armed escorts do not create additional risk of harm to affected people
  • Better avoid it but if no choice be sure that all conflicted parties are aware of it and accept it.
  • Deciding the use armed escorts needs to consider the perception of the community and to analyse the impact.
  • A big no-no as it might cause more trouble for for the organization than good. Should be well-discussed with the military or government units that we do not encourage military escort
  • Obligatory checking whether there is a community acceptance of a force and military presence in general

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Aurelien Buffler Aurelien Buffler Chief of Policy Advice and Planning Section, OCHA
Marie-Emilie Dozin Marie-Emilie Dozin Protection Cluster Coordinator, Mali
Melody Knight Melody Knight Global Humanitarian Access Advisor, NRC
Ann Marie McKenzie Ann Marie McKenzie Protection Cluster Co-Coordinator, Libya
Sarah Vuilleumier Sarah Vuilleumier Protection Advisor, World Food Programme, Mali