Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Collaborative humanitarian protection research programme

This area of investment funds high-quality research into humanitarian protection of people affected by conflict.

The goal of this research is to:

  • better understand the causes of humanitarian protection risks and violations
  • gather evidence about which interventions are most effective in improving humanitarian protection outcomes
Partners involved:
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)

The scope and what we're doing

In 2019, AHRC and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) established a partnership to fund high-quality research into humanitarian protection of people affected by conflict. The goal of this research is to:

  • better understand the causes of humanitarian protection risks and violations
  • gather evidence about which interventions are most effective in improving humanitarian protection outcomes

In 2020, 12 projects were selected for funding under the AHRC-FCDO collaborative humanitarian protection research programme’s thematic research grants funding opportunity.

These addressed 1 or more of the following 6 themes identified under the funding opportunity:

  • impact of violations of international humanitarian law
  • impact of protection programming
  • impact of restraint
  • impact of local protection mechanisms
  • impact of recognition on protection
  • impact of targeting

The AHRC-FCDO collaborative humanitarian protection research programme sits as part of a wider FCDO programme: ‘Building an evidence base on humanitarian protection of people affected by conflict’ (BEPAC).

The BEPAC programme was designed to improve understanding of the protection risks faced by conflict-affected people and what can be done to reduce and mitigate these risks. Through studying the effectiveness of interventions that seek to improve protection, including our understanding of what factors increase or decrease rights violations, evidence will be generated to inform more effective programming and policy.

BEPAC has 3 main component research projects:

  • researching the impacts of attacks on healthcare (RIAH)
  • improving protection impact evaluation
  • collaborative humanitarian protection research programme

Opportunities, support and resources available

No additional funding available under this programme.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Funded research grants

Understanding and addressing the impact of invisibility on conflict-related male sex violence in Syria

Dr Edel Hughes, National University of Ireland, Galway

This project seeks to address the gaps in current research on male conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) survivors, with a focus on the Syrian context.

The project draws on the work of Jill Stauffer (2015) and Philipp Schultz (2018) in applying the concept of ‘ethical loneliness’. Ethical loneliness is defined as the ‘isolation one feels when one, as a violated person or as one member of a persecuted group, has been abandoned by humanity, or by those who have power’ to male CRSV survivors.

The research will provide a comprehensive base for understanding the factors that lead to male CRSV and will examine the impact of the initial violation and its subsequent harms. The research aims to develop strategies to address the drivers of invisibility of male CRSV, and to facilitate access to support and recovery services. The end-users who will benefit from the project include:

  • the male survivors of CRSV
  • their families and communities
  • service providers
  • policymakers
  • donors
  • the academic community

Read more about the project on Gateway to Research (GtR): Understanding and addressing the impact of invisibility on conflict-related male sex violence in Syria.

Refugee-host solidarity and social cohesion as humanitarian objectives: critical studies of host-inclusive refugee programmes in Kenya and Lebanon

Dr Cory Rodgers, University of Oxford

While Europe was the focus of much media attention during the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, the vast majority of the world’s refugees live in low and middle-income countries of the Global South, an area where host communities often face economic hardships even before the arrival of displaced populations.

This project entails an in-depth ethnographic study of social cohesion programmes and the contexts in which they are implemented, bringing sociological, historical, and anthropological lenses to bear on the recent ‘host inclusivity’ turn in humanitarian responses to displacement.

Comparative research will be undertaken in Kenya and Lebanon, with a multidisciplinary research team drawing on expertise in the areas of:

  • policy and planning studies
  • urban studies
  • peace and security studies

In addition to its academic contributions, this project would inform the strategies that humanitarian organisations adopt to reduce refugee-host tensions, improve the mutual benefits of programmes that engage both groups, and mitigate unintended outcomes.

Read more about social cohesion as a humanitarian objective.

Read more about the project on GtR: Refugee-host solidarity and social cohesion as humanitarian objectives: critical studies of host-inclusive refugee programmes in Kenya and Lebanon.

The effectiveness mechanisms of change and acceptability of family focused psychosocial support (FFPSS) for at-risk adolescents in Lebanon

Dr Tania Bosqui, American University of Beirut

This mixed-method study aims to develop and evaluate a family systemic intervention module, named Sawa A2wa (Stronger Together), to use alongside UNICEF Lebanon’s FPSS programme.

The study is co-led by Dr Felicity Brown at War Child Holland, and the module is being implemented through:

  • the Danish Refugee Council
  • Terre des Hommes, Italy
  • War Child, Holland

The aim is to enhance current humanitarian programming and address a significant weakness of the current evidence base for at-risk adolescents and their families in conflict-affected contexts.

Focused psychosocial support aims to promote wellbeing and resilience and to reduce mental ill-health in young people at risk of child protection violations, including:

  • gender-based violence
  • child marriage
  • child labour

The immediate impact of the study is the focused support for 351 at-risk adolescents and their caregivers. Other impacts include the integration of the systemic family module into existing FPSS activities across Lebanon, and engagement with the national mental health programme for longer term impact on psychosocial support provision.

Read more about family focused psychosocial support for at-risk adolescents in Lebanon.

Read more about the project on GtR: The effectiveness mechanisms of change and acceptability of family focused psychosocial support (FFPSS) for at-risk adolescents in Lebanon.

Protecting civilians from harm: how humanitarians can encourage armed actors to comply with norms

Dr Julia Steets, Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI)

This research project, which focuses on Iraq, considers a particular type of protection intervention, namely efforts to encourage armed actors to comply with norms, referred to as restraint. The research analyses and reconstructs the theories of change on which restraint activities are built.

The project compares these theories of change with the perceptions of armed actors on what influences their behaviour towards civilians. It also establishes to what extent armed actors, protection actors, and conflict-affected communities perceive protection interventions as effective.

The reconstruction and development of theories of change is expected to make a direct contribution to how humanitarian organisations plan and implement protection interventions. It will also contribute to the knowledge about evaluating impact of protection activities.

The project aims to inform the conceptual approach of protection research, moving away from solely focusing on direct deaths and injuries, to also account for indirect mortality and injury caused by attacks on hospitals and other infrastructure.

Read more about protecting civilians from harm.

Read more about the project on GtR: Protecting civilians from harm: how humanitarians can encourage armed actors to comply with norms.

Challenging neglect from a systemic perspective: child protection in Gaza and Jordan

Dr Jason Hart, University of Bath

Globally, humanitarian agencies with a mandate for child protection act to prevent harm to children in settings of armed conflict and displacement. Tragically, despite their best efforts, protection work is often unequal to the threats that children and caregivers face.

This project pursues a multidisciplinary inquiry into the functioning of the humanitarian system and its impact on child protection efforts.

The research entails 3 case studies:

  • in Jordan, there will be separate case studies on the situations of Syrians and Iraqis, and Somalis and Sudanese
  • in Gaza the project will explore the experiences of original inhabitants and those who settled as refugees, attending to differences in the support these 2 groups receive

The project seeks to benefit humanitarian actors working in Jordan and Gaza, as well as the academic community. However, most importantly it seeks to benefit children living in situations of protracted conflict or displacement whose safety and wellbeing are at serious risk.

Read more about the project on GtR: Challenging neglect from a systemic perspective: child protection in Gaza and Jordan.

Safety of strangers: understanding the realities of humanitarian protection

Professor Tim Allen, London School of Economics and Political Science

This research project explores the hidden moral anxieties of humanitarian protection actors as they work in the messy realities of humanitarian crises. It also explores how other actors in these contexts contest or co-opt these humanitarian ideas of protection and provide different forms of safety, as well as the way that these contests are entangled with competitions for authority.

The research uses history, anthropology, curation, ethnomusicology and theology to inform the UK government and other policymakers about:

  • humanitarian protection
  • UN Protection of Civilian sites
  • national non-government organisations (NGO) role in protection
  • the ongoing crisis in South Sudan and its borderlands

A significant strategy of the grant is to support Africa-based early career researchers.

The project is led by academics from London School of Economics and the Universities of Gulu (Uganda) and Juba (South Sudan).

Academics at the Universities of Gulu, Makerere (Uganda) and London School of Economics have developed and taught a course on humanitarian protection to nearly 50 African-based early career researchers. The University of Gulu is now overseeing a related mentorship and small-grants schemes.

Read more about the project on GtR: Safety of strangers: understanding the realities of humanitarian protection.

From words to deeds: providing tools for an effective engagement of armed non-state actors to improve humanitarian protection

Dr Annyssa Bellal, Geneva Academy

This project examines the practice and interpretations of armed non-State actors with respect to the law of armed conflict and international human rights law. Through a comparative analysis of selected norms, it aims to:

  • generate a better understanding of their perspectives
  • inform humanitarian protection strategies
  • provide practical tools for humanitarian actors to enhance their engagement with armed non-State actors

Field research is conducted in relation to 9 specific contexts:

  • Afghanistan
  • Colombia
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Lebanon
  • Mali
  • Myanmar
  • the Philippines
  • Somaliland
  • Syria

However, the findings of the project will have broader significance since many conflicts in the world involve armed non-State actors.

In addition to academic impact aimed at scholarly audiences, the project aims to benefit the humanitarian sector, as well as armed non-State actors. Communities and individuals affected by armed conflict will be the main beneficiaries of this project in the long-term.

Read more about the project on Gevena Graduate Institute.

Read more about the project on GtR: From words to deeds: providing tools for an effective engagement of armed non-state actors to improve humanitarian protection.

Peacekeepers as soldiers and humanitarians: the impact of contradictory roles and responsibilities on the protection mandate of peacekeepers

Dr Jutta Bakonyi, Durham University

This project conducts research on 2 African peace operations:

  • the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO)
  • the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM)

It explores how UN and AU peacekeepers fulfil their protection mandate from the perspective of protection providers and protection recipients:

  • military peacekeepers (provider)
  • civilians (recipients)
  • humanitarian worker (recipients and ideally partners of peacekeepers)

It will provide an in-depth and differentiated account on how military peacekeepers navigate their roles, swapping between combat and pacific responsibilities, and how their protection efforts are experienced at the recipients’ end.

The findings of the research will feed into a peacekeeping training module, which will be piloted during a workshop with AU and UN trainers.

The evaluation of the participants will help to fine-tune the training and to finalise a training handbook that will be made publicly available and shared with peacekeeping training centres and military headquarters of troop-contributing countries.

Read more about the project on the Durham University website.

Read more about the project on GtR: Peacekeepers as soldiers and humanitarians: the impact of contradictory roles and responsibilities on the protection mandate of peacekeepers.

New community-informed approaches to humanitarian protection and restraint

Dr Jeremy Marc Allouche, Institute of Development Studies

This project focuses on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where human rights abuses are widespread, including extremely high levels of sexual violence. While the resolution of the conflict on a national and regional level is the long-term solution, in the meantime aid agencies, local religious institutions and civil society groups struggle to protect civilians.

This research project aims to provide new and nuanced understandings of protection measures put in place by women in communities and the conditions under which they emerge. By identifying where such local measures have worked, and under what circumstances, the research will provide an evidence base for policy and practice.

The research will make an important contribution to the emerging literature on restraint, advancing conceptual thinking on the conditions under which local protection measures can be successful.

Understanding how to support local negotiated settlements could provide evidence to underpin aid programmes in this area, and to strengthen networks connecting the supply of evidence to demand.

Read more about the project on the Institute of Development Studies.

Read more about the project on GtR: New community-informed approaches to humanitarian protection and restraint.

Tackling VAWG in times of conflict: responding to youth voices from South Sudan

Professor Tamsin Bradley, University of Portsmouth

This project aims to deliver evidenced-based programme recommendations to facilitate the achievement of sustainable resilience among displaced young women and girls in South Sudan.

It will concentrate specifically on:

  • the experiences of violence against young women and girls (VAWG)
  • understanding the intersections between young age and a range of vulnerabilities influencing young women and girls’ resilience to violence and general wellbeing

The research will take an innovative mixed-methods approach, combining art heritage techniques with quantitative and qualitative surveys and interview tools.

The research will create impact from the start because of the Learning Alliance approach with development partners, who are key players in designing interventions to support displaced young women and girls.

The project will also develop an impact network across the contexts in which it will operate. Additionally, it will have impact on the humanitarian-development sectors by feeding through our community of practice into pre-existing knowledge sharing mechanisms.

Read more about the project on Gender Focus.

Read more about the project on GtR: Tackling VAWG in times of conflict: responding to youth voices from South Sudan.

Data and displacement: assessing the practical and ethical implications of targeting humanitarian protection

Professor Vicki Squire, The University of Warwick

This project assesses the data-based humanitarian targeting of assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), focusing on 2 contexts that are characterised by conflict and high levels of displacement:

  • northern Nigeria
  • South Sudan

It examines the production and use of large-scale data in targeting humanitarian protection, focusing on the operational and ethical challenges that arise in the collection and use of such data.

The project brings together academic researchers from the UK, Nigeria and South Sudan, along with practitioners from the International Organisation for Migration.

It emphasises the importance of involving local stakeholders in the assessment of data-driven processes of targeted assistance, in particular IDPs themselves. In so doing, the project explores issues such as:

  • barriers to participation in data collation processes for ‘at-risk’ groups
  • the implications of data-based targeting on intersecting and spatial inequalities
  • the impacts of large-scale data use for humanitarian principles such as ‘do no harm’

Beneficiaries of the research will include policymakers and donor communities, NGOs, researchers and information networks.

Read more about this project on The University of Warwick website.

Read more about the project on GtR: Data and displacement: assessing the practical and ethical implications of targeting humanitarian protection.

Humanitarian protection in the Liptako-Gourma region

Dr Virginie Baudais, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

This project focuses on the Liptako-Gourma region, which since 2015, has become the epicentre of the Sahel crisis and both state and non-state armed groups have committed serious violations of International Humanitarian Law. Despite several national and international initiatives, the number of conflict-related victims has increased from 199 in 2012 to 1,464 in 2018.

The project will focus on impacts of restraint and of local protection mechanisms, with diversity and gender as a crosscutting theme. It will consider the different threats to protection, the mechanisms used and the social norms on which they are based. It will also consider how humanitarian protection can support local protection mechanisms without having unintended negative consequences.

Dedicated publications, regional events and outputs will allow a large dissemination of the findings and maximise the overall impact of the project.

To ensure long-term sustainability, the proposal develops a capacity-building component for facilitators and researchers to develop local ownership of the methodology and working relations between partners.

Read more about security, governance and conflict prevention.

Read more about the project on GtR: Humanitarian protection in the Liptako-Gourma region.

Last updated: 26 October 2023

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