The Humanitarian Leader: Migrants’ trust in humanitarian action: Local lessons, global insights

Arias Cubas, M., Hoagland, N., and Mudaliar, S.
Publication language
Date published
01 Jul 2023
The Centre For Humanitarian Leadership
Research, reports and studies
Engaging with affected populations, Forced displacement and migration, Leadership and Decisionmaking
Deakin University

Humanitarian action is built on trust. Without it, humanitarian organisations cannot reach or respond to the needs of the most vulnerable, including many migrants. Yet, little is known about who migrants trust and why, as well as how this affects migrants' ability and willingness to seek and access humanitarian assistance and protection. This paper explores the findings of a large multi-sited research project conducted by the Red Cross Red Crescent Global Migration Lab across 15 countries to gather insights into migrants’ perceptions of, and trust in, humanitarian action. The rationale for the project has been that humanitarian organisations can better build (and, where necessary, repair) trust with migrants by listening and responding to their thoughts, fears, doubts, and concerns about their situations and the assistance and protection they receive. In this paper, we draw attention to three key lessons: first, the importance of increasing knowledge and awareness of humanitarian organisations and the services they provide; second, the importance of upholding the humanitarian principle of independence in migration programming; and third, the critical role that frontline staff and volunteers play in building and maintaining migrants’ trust. How does this paper inform humanitarian leadership practice?Trust is a crucial factor in the ability of humanitarian organisations to reach and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. Trust in the context of migration is important for humanitarian leadership not only because of the increasing scope and scale of humanitarian need related to migration, but also because there is a need to recognise, respond and adapt to the specific and exacerbated vulnerabilities of migrants impacted by humanitarian crises. Further, the securitisation of migration requires the humanitarian sector to grapple with concepts and perceptions of neutrality, impartiality, and independence in the context of humanitarian need vis-a-vis the increasingly restrictive immigration laws, policies and practices implemented by some public authorities. The findings presented here can inform strategies to strengthen the integrity and effectiveness of humanitarian operations related to migration and/or involving migrants.