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A deserted First Aid shelter on Lumley Beach where much of the conflict in Freetown took place. (Sierra Leone, 2006)

At a glance

Our protection work aims to improve the safety of civilians threatened with violence, coercion, and deliberate deprivation.


Protection is about keeping people safe; whether from violence and coercion or  from being deprived of the assistance they need. In the face of danger people will take what action they can to keep themselves and their families safe, and all humanitarians have a role in supporting them. Protection is a legal responsibility, with the state having primary responsibility for making sure that people within its borders are safe. When this isn't done effectively, humanitarian assistance can play a part in ensuring that basic obligations are met. Oxfam's protection work aims to improve the safety of civilians in the face of the threats that commonly occur after a disaster, taking active steps to prevent and reduce risk as well as to restore wellbeing and dignity. We work to ensure that people affected by crises are able to access assistance without it exposing them to greater risks or forcing them to do dangerous things.

Our approach

Oxfam uses three different approaches in our protection work in the field:

  1. Specific protection activities and programmes. In any society some people are more vulnerable than others.  This may be because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or political affiliation, or a combination of factors. Oxfam makes conscious efforts to consult communities, to understand who is at risk and why, and taking into account the possible consequences of everything we do (or don't do) on people's exposure to threats. Oxfam has been building up a body of activities and projects specifically to improve the safety of civilians and has run large-scale protection programmes across continents. This include, for instance, setting up local Protection Committees that provide a forum to negotiate with military or other authorities, helping communities develop emergency protection plans for when attacks take place, or training police forces in national law and human rights.
  2. Safe programming. This ensures that all humanitarian activities do not inadvertently create greater risks for those they are trying to reach, nor do they exacerbate conflict. A protection approach will have an effect on, for instance, the siting of facilities such as toilets or water points, the timing and location of distributions, or the quality of information made available in ways a community can access easily.
  3. Advocacy and campaigning. Oxfam holds relevant national or local authorities to account on protection, and campaigns globally to build an environment in which people are better protected from harm, receive remedial care, and have access to justice.

Because the factors affecting people's safety are so many and so varied, effective protection always involves working with others - state authorities, local civil society, national and international humanitarian organisations, and affected communities working together.

Risk-reduction model

Our protection work is based on a risk-reduction model: Risk = Threat + Vulnerability x Time

We try to improve the safety of civilians in the face of the following threats:

  • Violence: the deliberate killing wounding, torture, cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment, sexual violence including rape, and the threat of any of the above
  • Coercion: forced prostitution, sexual slavery, sexual exploitation, forced or compulsory labour, forced displacement or return, forced recruitment into armed forces, and being forced to commit acts of violence against others
  • Deliberate deprivation: including deliberately destroying civilian objects such as homes, wells, crops and clinics; preventing access to land and jobs; preventing the delivery of relief supplies; deliberate discrimination in getting jobs, schooling, land, services; and demanding illegal 'taxes' or tolls.

We consider these to be protection threats when they take place in a widespread and systematic manner.

The centrality of protection

In 2013 the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) made a formal commitment to placing protection at the centre of humanitarian action. But what does that mean for humanitarian practitioners who are not protection specialists? This short video highlights the implications that all humanitarian interventions have for people's protection from violence, coercion and abuse.

Also available in Arabic, French and Spanish.

Improving the safety of civilians: A protection training pack

Improving the safety of civiliansThis training pack is intended to help humanitarian workers to improve the safety of civilians being subjected to violence, coercion, or deliberate deprivation. The pack includes modules on: What is protection? Planning a programme, Mainstreaming protection and Programming for protection. The activity sessions within the modules cover topics as diverse as international standards for civilian protection, objective setting, indicators and monitoring, humanitarian negotiation, co-ordination and alliance building, reducing the risk of sexual violence and advocacy for humanitarian protection. 

Download the training pack