Webinar series on exploring challenges and best practice for access and humanitarian protection, April-June 2020

Humanitarian protection is often the most needed in the very conflict zones where access is also the most restricted. In April to June 2020, NRC, PHAP, and GPC are organizing a series of webinars on the challenges practitioners are facing related to access and humanitarian protection and the lessons we can draw from past situations.

Based on the concrete challenges and dilemmas submitted by humanitarian practitioners as part of a survey earlier in 2020, the webinars will focus in on types of frequently occurring challenging situations. To help bring out and clarify the different dimensions for practitioners to think about these types of situations, each sessions will feature a panel of experts that will be led through a facilitated discussion on the overall considerations in these types of situations, as well as questions arising from specific examples.

Session 1: Introduction

Thursday, 22 April 2020, 14:00-15:30 CEST

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sJNItJRMcA

Read more and access audio recording at: https://phap.org/22apr2020

The first session brought together a panel of experts to discuss the basic concepts related to access and humanitarian protection, how they relate to each other, the basic dilemmas and challenges faced in practice, and how to approach these challenges.

The session also addressed some of the ways in which we can draw lessons from past situations to how we approach the current COVID-19 operational environment.


Session 2: Negotiating access for humanitarian protection

Thursday, 28 May 2020, 14:00-15:30 CEST

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fxQRw66Hmc

Access audio recording at: phap.org/28may2020

On 28 May, the second session of the webinar series on ‘access and protection’ focused on challenges that practitioners face when trying to gain or maintain access for protection, whether negotiating directly for protection programming access or negotiating for humanitarian access in general while considering protection concerns.

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

  • Access is restricted if we introduce protection concerns: We have existing access for assistance, but we are worried that by introducing protection concerns as part of the parameters of the access negotiations, the authorities will restrict our access further
  • Needs assessments cannot include protection: We are unable to include protection in our needs assessments for fear of restricted access, so we do not understand the needs of vulnerable populations.
  • Authorities invite assistance but not protection: We are being actively invited by the authorities or gatekeepers to provide assistance, but not protection.
  • Restricted channels for access: We are allowed to provide assistance and protection, but only through the channels of the government or an armed group.
  • Restrictions on accessing vulnerable groups: We are allowed access, but we are not allowed to target vulnerable populations, only groups specified by the government/armed groups (or the population at large).
  • Restrictions on the types of activities: We have access for a specific type of service (e.g. healthcare) – how can we strengthen protection activities?
  • Reporting on protection concerns could limit access: We have access and have discovered protection issues. We now have to weigh reporting or advocacy on these issues versus having our access restricted.

We also encouraged registrants to share examples of these types of situations in order to ensure that the discussions were as relevant as possible to their work.

Tiffany Easthom, Executive Director,  Non-Violent Peaceforce
Hichem Khadraoui, Director of Operations, Geneva Call
Jochen Riegg, Head of Field Coordination, Access and Deconfliction Unit, OCHA Yemen
Paul White, ProCap Senior Protection Adviser

Session 3: Access and protection: Avoiding putting people at risk

Thursday, 11 June 2020, 14:00-15:30 CEST

Register at: phap.org/11jun2020

The third session will focus on issues related to when there is access, but either the access itself or the kinds of programming possible leads to protection risks.

Types of situations to be discussed:

Putting affected people at risk

  • 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 cross territorial lines, 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.

Session 4: Coordinating access for humanitarian protection

Thursday, 25 June 2020, 14:00-15:30 CEST

Register at: phap.org/25jun2020

The fourth session will focus on issues related to coordinating negotiations and approaches to access – including the use of armed escorts, civ-mil coordination, and coordination with peacekeeping missions – and how these relate to protection.


Types of situations to be discussed:


  • 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.
  • Different protection priorities of agencies: 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)