The Reach Out Initiative
by Robbie Thomson, IFRC June 2003

The post-cold war era of the 1990s has been characterised by the proliferation of small, regional or internal wars, fought mainly for ethnic or economic reasons. These wars are marked by the deliberate targeting of civilians, resulting in extraordinary suffering and displacement. At the same time a majority of governments, responding to pressure from their electorate and influenced by media hype, are restricting access to those seeking protection from conflict and persecution. The result has been a reduction in the numbers of refugees granted asylum and a substantial increase in the numbers of internally displaced peoples who lack adequate protection either in law or in practice.

Until quite recently, the majority of humanitarian assistance agencies were convinced that they had no role in the protection of refugees and people in refugee-like situations, and relied on host governments, UNHCR and ICRC to assume full responsibility. Following a number of initiatives by UNHCR and ICRC, however, there has been a growing realisation that, while the main responsibility for the protection of refugees and people in refugee-like situations rests with sovereign governments, human rights and humanitarian assistance organisations also have a responsibility to provide protection. That said, it is understood that UNHCR and ICRC have an explicit and historic mandate for protection.

In March 1999 UNHCR held a meeting of 30 humanitarian assistance and human rights agencies in New York to discuss how NGOs and UNHCR could work better together in the protection of vulnerable people – the so-called Reachout process. An outcome of that meeting was a steering committee which spawned a total of six working groups to look at various issues of protection. The second working group entitled Operationalisation of Protection and comprising the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Rescue Committee, CARE International, the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response and SCF (USA), decided that it could best carry out its mandate by developing a project to provide training to operations staff in humanitarian agencies – principally field-based middle to senior managers. The working group was heavily influenced by the recent RRN Network Paper, Protection in Practice, by Diane Paul.

The prime objective of the project is to enhance refugee protection awareness, knowledge and skills of those persons responsible for the delivery of humanitarian assistance within NGOs, RCRC National Societies and their International Federation, and to improve collaboration and cooperation between UNHCR and course participants.

The project will use as its base text the recent publication Protecting Refugees – A Field Guide for NGOs (published by HCR but written by the Norwegian Refugee Council; see review on p37 of the PDF). The project proposes to draft a three-day training module plus a three-hour module that can be incorporated into other training sessions, and to hold 27 workshops throughout the three years of the project, plus a further nine training of trainers workshops. The proposal provides for a scholarship fund to enable national NGOs and Red Cross national societies who may not otherwise be able to afford to attend.