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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
© European Union (Photographer: Anouk Delafortrie)


What is it?

Ensuring the protection of populations is a core objective of humanitarian action. Protection is a broad concept, approached in many ways, ranging from delivering basic humanitarian assistance to deploying peacekeeping troops.

The European Commission defines humanitarian protection as addressing violence, coercion, deliberate deprivation and abuse for persons, groups, and communities in humanitarian crises. This is performed complying with humanitarian principles and within international law.

International law defines the global framework for protecting populations: it includes international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international refugee law. This framework define the obligations of states and warring parties to assist and protect civilians, and to prevent and refrain from behaviour that violates their rights.

Why is this important?

In humanitarian crises, people need material assistance such as food, water, medical assistance, and psychological support. However, in situations of violence or deprivation, they also need specific support to cover the broader issues of personal safety and dignity.

EU-funded protection interventions aim to prevent, reduce, and respond to the risks and consequences of violence, coercion, deliberate deprivation and abuse in humanitarian crises.

How are we helping?

Protection is embedded in our mandate as defined by the European Council's Humanitarian Regulation (1996) and confirmed by the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid (2007).

In May 2016, we published the staff working document ‘Humanitarian Protection: Improving protection outcomes to reduce risks for people in humanitarian crises’. It outlines the definition and objectives of the European Commission’s humanitarian protection work.

The staff working document provides guidance for (i) the analysis of protection risks, (ii) programming of protection work in humanitarian crises, (iii) measuring the effect and outcome of interventions, and (iv) capacity-building activities.

Humanitarian protection is both a sector and cross-cutting issue. We use 2 main approaches:

  • targeted protection actions: such as (i) helping people obtain documentation or legal status; (ii) preventing and responding to violence, including gender-based violence; (iii) child protection; (iv) mine action
  • protection mainstreaming: incorporating protection principles and promoting meaningful access, safety, dignity, accountability, participation and empowerment for all social groups in all humanitarian projects, regardless of the sector.

EU-funded protection initiatives

The EU allocated over €1 billion for protection actions from 2017-2021. These are some examples.


We help provide legal counselling and aid to the population living close to the contact line or in non-government-controlled areas. This helps them get access, for example, to pensions, birth and death certificates, disability certificates, and security of tenure. Also, immobile older people and persons with disabilities living close to the contact line are provided with home-based care and psychosocial support.

Great Lakes

In the Great Lakes region,especially in Eastern Congo, over 5 million people have been internally displaced due to the armed conflict.

In this type of context, protection interventions aim to disseminate and promote compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law among weapons bearers, communities and authorities. The aim is to improve or restore humanitarian access and a protective environment for civilians affected by the conflict.

Activities also focus on protection monitoring to follow new displacements and patterns of abuse/violations, comprehensive protection services to victims of violence, including gender-based violence, and child protection.

Key interventions include promoting meaningful access to safety and security, medical/mental health and psychosocial services, legal assistance, and cash-based interventions for reintegration.


A country-wide protection monitoring system enhances the systematic and regular collection and analysis of information. The system identifies trends and patterns of violation of rights and protection risks for affected communities.

This has the purpose of informing effective programming and advocacy. The monitoring is done through structured monthly interviews with the same set of key informants, representing a variety of profiles considering age, gender, disability, displacement status, role in the community and social background.

This allows to analyse and compare protection trends over time, identify patterns of violations, understand vulnerabilities of different groups to specific violations, identify coping strategies, as well as connectors and dividers.


Protecting the human safety, integrity and dignity of the vulnerable populations affected by the conflict is a priority. Through stand-alone or integrated actions, the protection assistance aims to reduce the increasing risks and directly provide a holistic response to victims of violence, abuse, exploitation and confinement.

This encompasses case management, legal assistance for forcibly displaced people, holistic support to gender-based violence survivors, appropriate response to unaccompanied and separated children, psychosocial support, promotion of international humanitarian law, mine risk education, protection monitoring, evidence-based advocacy, and the implementation of coordinated protection early alert and identification systems.

Last updated: 10/02/2022

Facts & figures

Humanitarian protection aims to prevent, reduce, and respond to the risks and consequences of violence, deprivation, and abuse in humanitarian settings.

In 2021, over 113 million persons required protection due to humanitarian crises.

The EU allocated over €1 billion for targeted protection actions from 2017-2021.

In 2021, more than 22 million people benefited from EU-funded protection actions.

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