What Is Protection?

Protection is defined by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and adopted by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), as: “All activities aimed at obtaining full respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the relevant bodies of law (international human rights, humanitarian law and refugee law).”


States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of everyone who is within their jurisdiction, including non-citizens, in accordance with applicable national and international law. Therefore, refugees and IDPs must be treated in accordance with standards in international human rights and refugee laws as well as international humanitarian law. To ensure protection, the Camp Management Agency should be aware of all the rights of the camp population. They should be particularly cognisant of the rights of those at risk due to the displacement, the circumstances of displacement and the way assistance programmes are implemented.

Protection aims to ensure the full and equal respect for the rights of all individuals regardless of age, gender ethnic, social, religious or other background. Despite the causes of displacement, the mere fact that people are forced to abandon their home, and to leave everything behind, is a traumatic experience in itself. It results in a loss of bearings and an increased vulnerability. Protection activities in a camp should ensure that refugees and IDPs enjoy, without discrimination:

  • physical security: protection against physical harm
  • legal security: including access to justice, a legal status and respect of the right to self-defence
  • material security: equal access to basic goods and services.

Protection activities that promote the dignity of each individual in the camp include, but are not confined to, establishing security and safety arrangements, a functional referral, report and follow-up system in collaboration with the police and the judicial system, and food, water and health services.


People Are Key Actors of Their Own Protection

“Protection is fundamentally about people. It is a mistake to think of states, authorities and agencies as the sole actors in the protection of populations at risk. People are always key actors in their own protection.”

“Experience from many armed conflicts and disasters throughout history shows than human rights and humanitarian norms are most readily respected, protected and fulfilled when people are powerful enough to assert and claim their rights. The principle of supporting and empowering members of communities at risk who are actively working for their own protection, both practically and politically, needs to be maintained as a core strategy in protection work. Protection that is achieved by people, rather than delivered to them, is likely to be more durable.” (Protection - An ALNAP Guide for Humanitarian Agencies, 1997).



While human rights are universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, the following rights may be particularly relevant within a camp. Some apply to everybody, whereas others relate to members of such specific groups as children or refugees.

Rights that apply to all individuals Rights which are specific to children or refugees
  • The right to life
  • The right to non discrimination
  • Freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention
  • Freedom from enforced disappearance
  • The right to seek and enjoy asylum
  • The right to the equal recognition of and protection before the law
  • The right to an effective remedy
  • Freedom of movement
  • The right to family life and principle of family unity
  • The right to be registered at birth
  • The right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing
  • The right to work
  • The right to the enjoyment of highest attainable standard of health
  • The right to education
  • The right to participation


  • The right to special protection for a child deprived of his or her family environment
  • Freedom of child abduction and trafficking
  • Freedom from underage recruitment
  • The prohibition of child labour
  • The prohibition of ‘refoulement’ (forced return of a refugee to country of origin)
  • The right of refugees to an identity document




Protection Risks

Camps should be considered as a temporary measure of last resort in providing protection from risks associated with displacement such as conflict, violence, abuse, and damage caused from natural disasters. Key protection issues are, for example, individuals facing or fearing the deprivation of their basic needs and rights, losing their homes and property, as well as families and social networks that have been separated or broken.

It is important to acknowledge that in the aftermath of crises and natural disasters people often face multiple human rights challenges. Within a camp, there may be protection risks that are similar to those that caused people to flee, as well as risks related to people being traumatised and in distress, and the breakdown of protective environments previously ensured by families and social networks. Typical protection risks arising in camps include:

  • lack of safety and security: breakdown of social and familial structures, rampant crime, secondary impacts of natural disasters such as road blockages, armed elements, restrictions on freedom of movement, presence of landmines around the camp, theft, violence
  • problems in accessing assistance and services: limited participation in camp management by certain groups of the population, discriminatory access to basic provisions and services, limited capacity and delivery from service providers or lack of effective feedback and complaint mechanisms
  • difficulties in assessing protection: lack of birth certificates, ID or other documents or difficulty in obtaining them, destruction of personal property, inadequate law enforcement or restricted access to fair and efficient justice systems
  • gender-based violence: marital violence, rape, abuse, neglect and exploitation, trafficking
  • child abuse: abuse, neglect, exploitation, family separation or trafficking
  • psycho-social problems related to protracted or prolonged situations in a camp: unemployment or unequal access to employment possibilities, alcohol abuse
  • relocation or camp closure problems: forced relocation, unsafe or involuntary return, lack of property restitution or lack of access to land
  • build small collective centres, whenever possible, which are suitable for less than 100 people. Smaller sites are preferable since self-regulation within the group and solidarity from the host-community is usually more feasible
  • seek to apply minimum living standards, especially when displacement occurs over an extended period
  • allocate sufficient space for the collective centre population to prevent overcrowding
  • seal off and or illuminate public areas when not in use so there are fewer locations where abuse can occur.


Specific Protection Risks in Collective Centres

Protection risks in collective centres are aggravated by the fact that the displaced population is accommodated within structures that are often unsuitable or over-crowded. Domestic violence, drug abuse and sexual violence may occur and some groups may dominate others. The following precautions must be taken to decrease the protection risks.