Robyn gravatar image

How does an NGO evacuate its staff from a refugee camp?

by Robyn | 2016-12-01 20:01:17 -0600

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Tom Croft gravatar image

by Tom Croft | 2016-12-19 06:48:11 -0600

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Hi Robyn,

Your question is quite broad, so I’ll answer in a general sense – if however you have more specific questions please feel free to ask.

Firstly, all security management begins from an understanding of the context. In a refugee camp, this will include many dimensions, from the political, economic and legal environment of the host country, through to the specific physical layout of the camp and the breakdown of its population. This understanding should be gathered from as many sources as possible, including official sources, the police, other NGOs, camp leaders and residents.

Once you understand the general context, you can start to look at specific threats – what is most likely to happen, and what can you do to prevent it or reduce the impact of it happening. This is the ‘risk assessment’ process and can help you focus your plans – for example, you talk about terrorist attacks, which may well be a risk, but riots, fires etc could be a much greater concern. Once you’ve done this, you can look at making specific plans for staying safe on a daily basis (called Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs), and reacting to emergencies (called Contingency Plans).

In terms of SOPs, there are a few standard things that should be considered when working in camps. Firstly, there is communication. You must have a way of communicating with everyone in the camp, in order to inform them of any security concerns. This may be by mobile phone, radio or other means. A simple ‘phone tree’ where each person is responsible for sending a message on, and reporting back when they receive the reply, is a good way of making sure everyone is kept informed. This flow of information should go both ways, as staff may see something that others need to be aware of, for example a deterioration of the situation (see ‘indicators’ below). You must also always know how many staff you have in the camp. This means if something goes wrong, it’s much easier to do a head count and make sure you’ve accounted for everyone. To do this you may want to have a sign in system in your office, or track staff movement in another way.

It is also important to be able to understand the indicators that show that the security situation might be deteriorating. Again this comes back to context and your understanding of the situation. For example, if previous outbursts of violence have been preceded by a large gathering of people at a particular place, for example the entrance to the camp, then if you see this it could be an idea to leave the camp early before the situation gets worse.

If the situation does get bad, for whatever reason, all staff need to know how to evacuate – this is one of your contingency plans. The evacuation itself could take many different forms, and again depends on the context. You should try to look at alternative entrances / exits in case the one you would usually use is blocked, avoid ‘choke points,’ and think about which route is best depending on what part of the camp you’re in. You should also think about having rendezvous points where all staff meet following an evacuation, with secondary meeting points in case it’s impossible to get to the planned one for whatever reason.

It is also very important to consider the training of all staff working in the camp. This should cover basic security training, such as how to diffuse anger, be aware of their surroundings and first aid training, but should also cover practice evacuations – this is for two reasons, firstly to make sure everyone knows the plan and can follow it under stressful circumstances, and secondly to run through it to make sure the plan actually works.

As a final note, good security management should integrate into all activities you undertake. You should aim to foster good relations and acceptance with the community and key leaders at all times – diffusing tension in advance, or avoiding your organisation becoming a target, is the thing that is most likely to keep your team safe.

I hope that helps. I’ve focused here on staff security rather than that of camp residents, as that’s my area of expertise; for information on safeguarding refugees/IDPs, you will want to look at the protection literature. UNHCR and NRC also have useful resources on camp management.

Tom

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Asked: 2016-12-01 20:01:17 -0600

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Last updated: Dec 19 '16