Cameroon: Safer Access to people affected by conflict

The security and humanitarian situation in Cameroon's Far North Province has deteriorated. Ahead of the significant aid operations planned with the ICRC, the Cameroon Red Cross Society's priority is fostering greater acceptance for this humanitarian work. To this end, the ICRC held a three-and-a-half-day "Safer Access" workshop for 20 Cameroon Red Cross leaders. Gisandre Rivière, the ICRC's cooperation coordinator in Yaoundé, co-hosted the workshop and explained what it aimed to achieve.

In practical terms, what is a "Safer Access" workshop about?

The idea is to discuss with Red Cross members how best to improve their organization's acceptance and safety, both for itself and more widely for everyone else involved with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It's absolutely essential that the authorities, the population, the military and armed groups know who we are, understand what we're doing and that they accept us. This type of workshop helps us improve access to people who need help.

In Cameroon, we invited the chairpersons, secretaries and emergency-response coordinators from local Red Cross committees in the Far North of the country, from the Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, Logone-et-Chari and Diamaré departments. This region has been suffering as a result of the conflict in neighbouring Nigeria and has had to cope with a large influx of displaced people and refugees. Given the potential for outbreaks of violence in the border regions, it's essential that Red Cross staff are respected and able to reach people safely.

What did you do in the workshop?

A colleague from Geneva came to help us. We started off by discussing situations in which we had problems with safety or security. For instance, one participant reported that a Red Cross team had been stopped at a military checkpoint and that its members had had to show their ID, the vehicle registration papers and to explain at length what they were doing there. That's typical of a situation in which people are not familiar with the work of the Red Cross.

Workshop participants learn how to think about different contexts and what they might do to be understood and accepted and therefore improve their access to people who need help. In the case I mentioned, this means being in touch with the local community and explaining to the authorities what the Red Cross is, what we do and the principles that guide our action. Taking examples like these, we then work in groups to draw up a plan to improve access to people in need.

Why organize a workshop at this point in time?

It has become increasingly necessary to work in the Far North of Cameroon, given the scale of the humanitarian needs in the region, but it is difficult to operate there as a result of the security problems spilling over from the conflict in Nigeria. In the near future we're planning to provide significant aid, in particular the distribution of essential goods and food rations to tens of thousands of displaced people and to the communities hosting them. Cameroon Red Cross volunteers will work with us to distribute this aid and it is crucial that we are accepted. Our safety is paramount if we want to help people in need.

How does the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's Safer Access Framework fit into all this?

The Safer Access Framework provides guidance on a number of areas, such as context and risk assessment, the legal and policy base for Red Cross work, recommendations for staff and volunteer recruitment, identification, and internal and external communication. There is an online Safer Access 'Toolbox' at with advice on acceptance, which is particularly relevant to the current situation in Cameroon.

Since the beginning of the year in the Far North of the country, the ICRC has also been involved in:

  • building Red Cross first-aid capacity by carrying out a needs assessment in the north, in Maroua, from 12 March to 2 April and then running advanced training for 43 first-aiders from Mora, Mokolo, Kousséri and Diamaré and basic first-aid training for 26 others, who were tasked with passing on that knowledge to their communities;
  • visiting Maroua prison to check that detention conditions were in compliance with international standards;
  • training 10 Red Cross volunteers in restoring family links;
  • training nine Red Cross volunteers in communication activities;
  • training journalists from two radio stations on the role of media in situations of armed conflict and violence, and on journalists' safety;
  • maintaining dialogue with the Cameroonian army and police force operating in the Far North of the country to promote understanding of and respect for international humanitarian law;
  • registering, with the help of Red Cross volunteers, 14 Nigerian refugee children separated from their families.