How can Ukrainian Refugees be effectively safeguarded?

As the world watched in stunned unison as the tragic events unfolded in Ukraine from the onset of invasion on 24th February, the question on most peoples minds is what happens to the people of Ukraine now? Sadly, the phrase, ‘humanitarian crisis’ is not a new one and has featured heavily in news reports for as long as I can remember. Thankfully it has been many years since a crisis of this magnitude has been seen in mainland Europe.

As this situation evolves, there are many issues to consider. At the time of writing, over a million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the borders in neighbouring, Poland, Romania, Moldova and Hungary and depending on how long the conflict lasts there are fears, within the Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) community that this number will rise to 5 million. If we just sit with that figure for a moment, 5 million people. That is larger than the population of New Zealand and tantamount to the population of Costa Rica. [1] A vast number of displaced people on the continent of Europe.

Despite the growing threat from Russia over the last few years and the increased imminence of an attack in the last few weeks, the world aid agencies and world governments were admittedly unprepared for such a situation. As a result, humanitarian aid agencies are desperately trying to catch up to meet the ever-present need for help and assistance. I am sure that like me you are seeing the news coverage, where people from all over Europe are rallying to support those who have fled the fighting, whether that be offering food and nourishment at the borders, accommodation in private homes or taxi services to various countries in Europe. All of which is hugely admirable and shows the compassion of humanity at its best, however, who is regulating and monitoring this. In the United Kingdom (UK) we define a vulnerable person as,

a vulnerable person is either a minor or someone who, for physical or mental reasons, is unable to look after themselves or their finances.’ [2]

To that end it must be understood that those who are currently fleeing Ukraine, often forced to travel on foot through areas that are being systematically and indiscriminately shelled, are predominantly children and women, travelling without their spouses, fathers, brothers or boyfriends, entering a foreign country with nothing more than what they can carry and no knowledge of when or if they can ever return to their homes.

I left my house, my car, all of my profit in my life, I left all. We have nothing now.”[3] So how can these desperate and vulnerable people be safeguarded? How can they be housed and fed safely or receive medical treatment and how can we make sure there isn’t a lasting legacy of deprivation and harm?

To effectively safeguard displaced people, there needs to be a strategically implemented robust mechanism that allows for safe passage, whether that be to extended family in other parts of the world, or legally authorised access to countries who are prepared to welcome and support their needs. The quick implementation of a robust, but easily accessible safe passage system is essential as this will help prevent people who are already scared, already suffering emotional turmoil and are already very much in need, seeking alternative and potentially less favourable options. However, the process must not be overly onerous. 147 countries, including the UK, signed the Refugee Convention 1951[4] and as such there is no excuse for the infamous ‘red tape’ to hold up any such process and all signatories have a responsibility to make sure this does not happen and that it is conducted in a safe, secure and ethical way.

In conjunction with safe passage, there needs to be the immediate implementation of safeguarding measures that ensure the vulnerable are not exploited in anyway by anyone. This humanitarian crisis is not the responsibility of one government or one entity, it is the responsibility of all involved and as such a proactive, conjoined approach to safeguarding standards is needed.

The UK has the Safeguarding against sexual exploitation and abuse and harassment in the aid sector (SEAH) programme[5], which provides a guide as to the standards expected of all UK personnel in the aid sector, but in such a fast moving and volatile situation these standards need to be proactively monitored and regulated. In addition to this there must be a heavily publicised and adequately staffed helplines for refugees to access if they feel their human rights are being violated in anyway. They must be empowered to reach out and ask for help, without any fear of retribution or loss of access to their basis human rights, right to life, freedom from inhumane or degrading treatment, right to liberty and security, their right for their privacy and family life being respected, no punishment without law to name but a few.[6]

As this dire situation evolves and as unfortunately the number of refugees requiring aid will increase, the requirement for robust safeguarding tools and measures is imperative. Humanitarianism by its very definition is a belief in improving people lives and reducing suffering.[7] To that end, we who currently have the privilege of living in peace, have an absolute obligation to help protect those, who through no fault of their own, find themselves in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

[1] Countries in the world by population Population by Country (2022) – Worldometer (

[2] Vulnerable Person definition: Vulnerable person | Practical Law (

[3] Ukrainians face long journeys to borders as fighting escalates | Reuters

[4] The 1951 Refugee Convention The 1951 Refugee Convention (

[5] Safeguarding against sexual exploitation and abuse and harassment Safeguarding against sexual exploitation and abuse and harassment (SEAH) in the aid sector – GOV.UK (

[6] Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

[7] HUMANITARIANISM | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary

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