Fall 2013 Session II: Humanitarian Response in Conflict Settings

October 28 - November 8, 2013
Fall 2013 Session II: Humanitarian Response in Conflict Settings


This session will consider what it is like to be a “humanitarian” actor in a conflict setting today. What is the role of humanitarian agencies like CRS in a conflict zone and how does CRS ensure access to populations in need? The session will focus on the complexities of conflict today and what is referred to as “the shrinking humanitarian space.” Key humanitarian principles will be introduced and the way emergency response relates to peacebuilding will be addressed. Ultimately, students will be led to think about the responsibilities and limits of the international community towards vulnerable populations. Recommended resources are in bold. 

Learning Objectives

  1. Students will be introduced to the key principles of humanitarian action in conflict settings (including the definitions of neutrality and impartiality) and CRS’ principles.
  2. Students will be exposed to features of humanitarian crisis settings and be introduced to the complexities of doing aid work in conflict settings.
  3. As a focus, students will be introduced to the term “humanitarian access” and observe that it must be negotiated and differs in different settings.  Note: We will not be discussing CRS’ specific access in these settings, rather learning about access more generally.
  4. Students will think about solidarity and the role they might play in responding to acute need worldwide.

1.) Nature of the Problem and Challenges

  • “CRS’ Bishop Kicanas Visits Tent Camp for Syrians in Lebanon,” by Jim Stipe, Catholic Relief Services Newswire, June 11, 2013. This blog-style essay is a detailed description of what Bishop Kicanas saw as he visited with Syrians impacted by displacement.
  • “Syria Crisis: Nostalgia Amid Need” by Caroline Brennan, Catholic Relief Services.  The business of Karim, a shoemaker, was destroyed during bombings in Syria. He, his wife, Zahaya, and their year-old son also lost their home to the violence. The family has been living in a tent in Lebanon since late June 2013.  Learn their story.
  • “One in a Million,” March 2013. This one-page infographic from UNHCR packages needs and numbers of the Syrian displaced in an easy-to-understand format.
  • “Syria’s Metastisising Conflict” This policy brief can serve as an introduction to the Syrian conflict’s various actors and its regional and international implications.
  • “UNHCR Warns of Humanitarian Cost of Syrian Conflict, Especially on Displaced,” February 2013. Recounts a speech by UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller and highlights the issue of sexual violence for those displaced in the Syrian conflict.
  • “Stories from Syrian Refugees,” UNHCR. This resource includes facts and figures on the numbers of people displaced by the conflict and the scope of the humanitarian aid needed.
  • “The Battle for Syria,” Frontline. Part one of this film features narrated footage of a reporter’s embedding with members of the Syrian insurgency. Part two details the background and regional implications of the conflict. Together, both parts are approximately 40 minutes in length.
  • Map of region

2.) Essential Guiding Principles

3.) CRS Strategies: Assisting Refugees and Promoting Peace

4.) What We Can Do

5.) Additional Videos

Note: Any external resources are provided for additional information and do not represent the view of CRS.

©2014 Catholic Relief Services University Program