The security and protection of the staff of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Uganda
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The research investigated the security and protection of the staff of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Uganda; specifically the organizations policy on staff security and protection, the nature of perceived security threats by staff in Uganda, and how these threats impact on UNHCR’s provision of services. As noted, previous studies have tended to concentrate on the security of those receiving humanitarian aid, but not on the security of humanitarian workers themselves. Even the few that have written about humanitarian workers security, have only concentrated on their physical security. This study sought to address not only the physical security of those at risk, but also their mental/psychological, and job security. The study was guided by the theory of ‘human security’; which broadens the definition of security to include; economic, health, environmental and other threats to people’s well-being. The theory places individuals or people collectively as the referent of security, focusing on individual’s basic needs and social welfare, which might not necessary infringe on the physical security of an individual, but poses other forms of threats. The field research focused on the field offices located away from the city center; in the districts of Arua and Adjumani; which two districts host the majority of refugees in the country. The research was based on qualitative data collection, including purposive selection of respondents; key informant interviews with UNHCR field staff and local government officials as well as observation and documentation. Data was solicited from 50 UNHCR Staff and 10 government officials using an interview guide; purposively selected under the consideration of being out in the field on a daily basis. Findings showed that UNHCR has policies in place on the security and protection of its staff members, following policies from the United Nations. And that UNHCR has made considerable effort to improve the existing policies on staff security and protection. The study further established that many of the policies in place are theoretical and generally apply to all UNHCR’s field locations, and fail to address the actual threats faced by UNHCR staff in Uganda. Findings showed that the main threats faced by UNHCR staff in Uganda include; the fear of attacks from rebels, attacks from the refugees, traveling long distances (to and from work) on poor roads, traveling on water, fear of catching diseases while in the settlements, stress as a result of; heavy workloads, contract systems, lack of recreation activities, the rotation system, lack of adequate security training and sexual harassment. The insecurity of UNHCR staff also impacts on the organizations deliverance of humanitarian services, noting that there are times that the organization has to put off its activities, or to extend its time frame due to staff insecurity. The study therefore concluded that UNHCR needs to better train, equip and educate the staff members on how best they can protect themselves. UNHCR needs to take a ‘bottom-up’ approach to address not the possible and common threats to all UNHCR locations, but base this on the actually threats faced by the different staff in the different locations. Further that the application of protection to staff, should be uniform and equal to all staff; national and international. The study concludes by recommending a more decentralized approach to staff security and protection. Rather than relying on the head office for directive, local and field staff should be equipped with the ability to take decisions concerning there own security. The study also suggests areas for further study; focusing on the challenges government/countries face in the offering protection to humanitarian workers within their boundaries. In conclusion, the changing nature of conflicts which presents complex humanitarian emergencies is a growing phenomenon with in the world, and most especially in the developing world; since humanitarian agencies are increasingly being called upon to respond to such emergencies; it is important for humanitarian staff to understand that working in these environments will expose them to risks. Therefore, anticipating and preparing for these risks and calamity would help to mitigate the risks. UNHCR being one of the humanitarian agency’s of the United Nations, needs to adopt a more technical, all inclusive, well–reasoned and well informed approach to the security issues of their workers.