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Shelter and camp coordination and camp management

Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • In camp contexts, many cases of sexual violence can be prevented if shelter and site planning take into account the specific risks faced by women and transgender people.  A security-focused and gender-sensitive approach is essential in ensuring the construction and maintenance of safe and appropriate shelters for women, girls, and entire communities. As described in the relevant tip sheets, shelter assessments and camp coordination and management systems should always include women representatives from the affected community and local NGOs, especially those representing marginalized populations such as LBT-identified women, women with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities, indigenous women, and female youth and adolescents.

Key Considerations for Shelter and Camp Coordination and Camp Management

  • The IASC GBV Guidelines (p. 54-55) and GBV AoR tip sheets on Shelter and Camp Coordination and Camp Management provide key guidelines and recommendations to prevent VAWG through shelter planning and camp management.  In addition, the following considerations should be taken into account when constructing and managing camps for refugees and IDPs:
  1. Camp design and safety
    1. Ensure camp design is culturally appropriate. For example, in certain contexts it would not be culturally acceptable to place single or widowed women together in a group and separate them from other community members.
    2. Provide temporary separate housing for unaccompanied girls until a foster care situation can be arranged (UNHCR, 2003).
    3. Consult with local LGBTI NGOs and consider the specific risks faced by these individuals in camp settings.  Male-female segregated shelter, bathrooms, health and other facilities often exclude transgender people and others that don’t fit neatly into those genders, or are not legally or publicly recognized as their identified gender. Transgender women who do not “pass” as women in mainstream culture may be denied safe shelter and forced to share shelter space with men, increasing their risk of exposure to sexual and physical violence. Nepal has recognized a third-gender category and now provides gender-inclusive bathrooms (see Knight, 2012b); similar actions advocating the safety and inclusion of gender-variant individuals may be helpful in certain settings, but a great deal more research is needed before specific recommendations can be made. 
    4. Consider the specific risks faced by single girl-headed households. Ensure adequate protection measures are taken, such as providing sturdy building material and locks for homes and providing safe paths to services. Consult adolescent girls in the design, security, and management of camps and shelters (Schulte & Rizvi, 2012). 
    5. Consider the specific needs of women and girls with disabilities. Ensure that camp design takes into account the accessibility of necessary services facilities for people of all abilities (Human Rights Watch, 2010).
  2. Arrange for police protection and security patrols in the camp.  Ensure that police receive regular training so they are effective partners in preventing violence against women and girls (UNHCR, 2003). Engage the community in forming “community watch” teams of men and women to monitor and support those most at risk of violence.  Plan the location and design of shelter areas to foster community cohesion and a sense of community spirit (Norwegian Refugee Council, 2008).  In settings with peacekeeping missions, engage peacekeepers to facilitate security patrols, especially on foot.


United Nations Security Council Resolution  2106 (2013)

Reiterates its demand for the complete cessation with immediate effect by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence and its call for these parties to make and implement specific time-bound commitments to combat sexual violence, which should include, inter alia, issuance of clear orders through chains of command prohibiting sexual violence and accountability for breaching these orders, the prohibition of sexual violence in Codes of Conduct, military and police field manuals or equivalent and to make and implement specific commitments on timely investigation of alleged abuses; and further calls upon all relevant parties to armed conflict to cooperate in the framework of such commitments, with appropriate United Nations mission personnel who monitor their implementation, and calls upon the parties to designate, as appropriate, a high-level representative responsible for ensuring implementation of such commitments (OP 10).

See also the section on security.

Example:  Peacekeeping missions in Chad, DRC, Darfur and Haiti are supporting the humanitarian assistance activities of UNHCR and OCHA in IDP and refugee camps. Peacekeepers are collaborating with national police to provide patrols and escorts and are supporting the establishment of camp security committees.  In Eastern Chad, an integrated security detachment (known by its French acronym: DIS52), established with the support of MINURCAT and overseen by UNPOL, has improved security in refugee camps and IDP sites through routine foot and motorbike patrols. In IDP camps in Darfur, patrols are conducted day and night and a reduction in attacks on women is attributed to the presence of UNAMID peacekeepers, including as escorts for women collecting firewood and farming. To respond to the worsening of the security situation in the Haiti IDP camps after the January 2010 earthquake UNPOL, military peacekeepers and the national police set up an around-the-clock security mechanism in the six major camps. Mobile security and gender patrols are operating in an additional 70 camps. These mechanisms have been effective, particularly in protecting women against sexual aggression.


Source: Excerpted from DPKO/DFS, 2010.

3. Take into account the local (host) population’s attitudes toward those living in camps. Some members of the host community may resent refugees/IDPs for the aid they are receiving or for infringing on their resources, and such tension could lead to violence.  Liaise with the host community to ease tensions and when possible, highlight joint benefits of ensuring safety for encamped populations (Norwegian Refugee Council, 2008).

4. Register all refugees/IDPs individually and provide individual registration cards. Many women are forced to remain in exploitative or abusive relationships when only male heads of households are registered and given ration cards. Efforts should be made to provide individual registration cards to each member of the family to ensure that all women and girls are recognized and receive adequate services (UNHCR, 2003).    

5. Ensure training and accountability of all CCCM staff.

  1. Ensure all agency staff and camp management personnel are trained in issues of VAWG and fully understand the specific risks faced by women and girls.
  2. Require that staff be trained on and sign applicable codes of conduct.
  3. Recruit and train female staff to work in camp management.
  4. Clearly inform the camp community of the procedures for reporting complaints involving humanitarian workers, peacekeepers and security personnel, including complaints related to sexual exploitation and abuse.  Ensure all staff names and functions are clearly identified (Norwegian Refugee Council, 2008). 

6. Address issues of sustainability. Ensure that construction of shelters for any new arrivals does not contribute to environmental degradation surrounding the camps (e.g. by using local trees or other local resources to build shelters)  – which in turn can increase tensions with the host community and increase the risk of violence.

  1. Provide immediate access to shelter material through short-term direct provision and/or a voucher system.
  2. Use formal and non-formal education settings to promulgate sustainable shelter construction techniques, including mandating the use of sustainable construction material in new humanitarian structures (Women’s Refugee Commission, 2011).

7. Weigh the pros and cons of emergency relocation. At certain times it may be necessary to relocate vulnerable women and girls to a safer setting, such as an urban area or another camp, in order to prevent violence against them. However such relocation can disrupt women’s social networks, and is not a guarantee that they will be safe in their new locations. Women and girls must be fully involved and consulted in any decision involving relocation (Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, 2006b).


Case Study: Refugee Women Participate in Camp Management

In Sierra Leone, UNHCR instituted a system of refugee participation in eight refugee camps to ensure that the views and concerns of refugees were expressed to UNHCR, government and implementing partners. Through regular discussions with refugees, it became evident that some important issues were not being adequately addressed by the camp management or UNHCR staff. For example, refugee women reported that most decision-making was male dominated and husbands collected and kept custody of household entitlements, including food and non-food items.

A new representation system was established, such that positions were reserved for women on the Refugee Executive Committee, and a subcommittee on gender-based violence was established in which partner activities were monitored and refugee women’s welfare was promoted.

The new system facilitated wider participation of women in camp management and promoted transparency and accountability in service provision. Refugee women were made aware of their entitlements and rights and further empowered to govern their own issues. While the number of women in the camp committee was low (despite community sensitization over two years), women’s involvement in camp administration and other sector activities increased to 45% in most camps.

Source: Adapted from IASC Gender Handbook, 2006, p. 33).

Additional Tools:

See the shelter and camp coordination and management cluster websites.

For a checklist to assess gender equality programming in site selection, design, construction, and/or shelter allocation, see page 102 of the Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action, Inter-Agency Standing Committee, 2006.

Norwegian Refugee Council. 2008. Camp Management Toolkit, Chapter 10: Prevention of and Response to Gender-Based Violence, p. 319-323. These pages of NRC’s toolkit focus on protection-sensitive shelter and site planning, along with community protection systems.

Schulte, J. & Rizvi, Z. 2012. In Search of Safety and Solutions: Somali Refugee Adolescent Girls at Sheder and Aw Barre Camps, Ethiopia. New York: Women’s Refugee Commission.

The National Center for Transgender Equality. 2011. Making Shelters Safe for Transgender Evacuees. Considering the unique difficulties transgender evacuees encounter, NCTE, Lambda Legal, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have issued these simple guidelines to assist shelters in making their spaces safe for transgender people.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 2011. Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, & Intersex Persons in Forced Displacement. Switzerland: UNHCR. This note provides guidance on a range of issues when working to meet the needs of LGBTI people in the displacement cycle.