States are fully responsible for the protection of all persons within their territories regardless of their status, whether as refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) or members of host communities, and for ensuring public order and security from threats. Human rights and humanitarian actors must advocate with the national authorities to assume their responsibilities to provide effective security. They also have an important responsibility to take protective measures to help reduce exposure to threats, and mitigate any devastating effects, of the initial cause of displacement.

While threats to life, liberty and security are often reasons why people flee, such threats rarely cease after flight but often continue to pursue displaced persons during all stages of the displacement cycle. Displacement and the removal from the usual protective environment of one’s own community have the tendency to render persons more vulnerable to security threats. In addition, traditional coping mechanisms, as well as the protective function of the family, will often have been reduced or will have disappeared entirely. Displaced persons are sometimes perceived as a cause of insecurity to a host community, especially when arriving en masse and when resources in the host community are scarce.

Camps may be perceived by refugees and IDPs as safe havens, areas where they will be protected and assisted. Unfortunately, camps can also become an environment of lawlessness, attract violence and crime or be attacked or used by armed forces or groups. Much of the work on security, safety and protection must focus on the prevention of such threats from materialising.


Key Terminology


Security refers to the protection of an agency’s staff from deliberate threats or acts of violence.


Protection refers to the risk of violence against civilian noncombatant populations that are not an agency’s staff.


Safety refers to accidental hazards such as road accidents, fire, diseases and natural disasters. There is generally no intention to harm and relates to both camp residents and staff.


Staff and workers in a camp may not be exposed to the same threats as refugees and IDPs, or have the same levels of vulnerability to these threats. A person’s gender, age, health, ethnicity, religion, language and social status, amongst other characteristics, will help determine their level of vulnerability to a particular threat. An unaccompanied child is likely to be more vulnerable to forced recruitment. A member of a particular ethnic group may be more vulnerable to abuse or violence. Expatriate agency staff may be vulnerable to kidnapping for ransom.

The Camp Management Agency’s knowledge of the context in which they are working and an understanding of the stakeholders involved and their motives, is therefore an essential starting point to conduct a risk assessment that identifies threats and the differing risk levels for staff and camp residents.

With mitigation in place staff and workers will be able to maintain a presence in the camp. This will in turn have a positive impact on upholding the safety and protection of camp residents. Reduced access to populations of concern creates additional risks for refugees and IDPs as they are denied the protection and assistance they require.

In addition to what security is provided by the host government, all agencies should have their own staff security regulations and standard operating procedures (SOP). All staff should be trained in SOPs. Security and evacuation procedures and arrangements should be carefully planned in close coordination with all the respective organisations operating in the camp and relevant national security agencies, such as police and armed forces.


Security Terms Defined

Threat: a danger to a camp population, to camp staff, to the Camp Management Agency or to assets and property

Vulnerability: the level of exposure to, or ability to contend with, a particular threat

Impact: the level of harm caused by an identified threat

Likelihood: the probability that a threat will occur

Risk: the impact and likelihood of encountering a threat (risk = impact x likelihood).

Security involves the management of staff activity in relation to the identified or potential risk.


This chapter lays out the steps that a Camp Management Agency should consider in carrying out an initial security assessment. This assessment should highlight the dangers facing the camp’s population as well as the Camp Management Agency and should include considerations pertinent to the establishment of the camp.

There are five main categories of threat: civil unrest, crime, hazards, armed conflict and terrorism. These are intrinsically interrelated. Identification of a threat and planning of activities to mitigate impacts in one category will have a direct impact on all other categories. These threats may be defined as follows:

  • Civil unrest: Threats may arise as a result of communal or intra-group tension, either within the refugee or IDP population. These may be along ethnic and/or religious lines or between the refugees/IDPs and the host population. These may arise from competition for scarce resources such as land, water or firewood. They can be directed against the humanitarian community in circumstances where the camp population perceives they have been offered insufficient information prior to a distribution or have developed unrealistically high expectations of assistance.
  • Crime: Threats arising from a general break-down in law and order may include, individual and/or collective criminal acts. This may include the threat of physical, mental, sexual or other harm or suffering, which may result in injury, death, physical or mental disability or deprivation.
  • Hazards: Threats categorised as hazards are generally safety-related or linked to natural conditions. A threat that is described as a hazard is essentially one in which there is no deliberate intention to harm. For the purposes of this toolkit this will generally mean fire and disease. The management of these threats are dealt with in other chapters. Natural hazards like landslides and flooding, as well as human-made hazards such as industrial waste, should be considered when establishing a camp. These threats are also addressed in other chapters. More extreme natural hazards, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, may also be of concern but potentially be unavoidable. Thought should thus be given to how these might be coped with.


Community-based Contingency Plan

In areas that are prone to natural or industrial disaster, community-based contingency plans should be in place. The elements of the plan should include awareness-raising and education for all groups, early warning systems linked to government systems where possible, clear lines of communication, evacuation or hibernation plans and meeting points. Agencies should also have contingency plans in terms of emergency stocks and procedures.


  • Armed conflict: Threats arising in the context of armed conflict, for example at the hands of, or as a result of, the activities of armed forces and groups who are parties to a conflict.
  • Acts of terrorism: These are generally understood as acts of violence organised by groups against civilians or other non-combatant targets. Terrorism should be considered by the security focal point/security adviser during security risk assessments as the indicators for a potential terrorist act will differ from those for armed conflict or crime.

These different threats are described below and suggestions for staff security and protection of camp populations are set out. It should be remembered that these suggestions are not exhaustive. Experience, accompanied by common sense, will often dictate a course of action.

The chapter concludes with a description of different approaches to security such as acceptance, protection and deterrence and includes considerations pertinent to the development of security, medical and evacuation plans.