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Safety and security

MSF's primary mandate is to bring emergency medical assistance to populations in need. To reach those who need our help the most, we often work in conflict and post-conflict regions. Each region involves different risks according to the context in which our humanitarian intervention takes place.

As international mobile staff for MSF, you will often be staying in insecure environments, where incidents will occur despite precautions.

MSF takes risk management very seriously. We continuously analyze security levels in order to create regulations and rigorous safety precautions to minimize the risks. International mobile staff and locally hired staff are obliged to follow these rules and procedures during the course of their assignments. Ignoring regulations puts one at disciplinary measures.

Safety regulations take into account the types of risk that project personnel are subject to. They include the suitable procedures to follow in the face of various threats. In the end, the employee's own behavior and attitude are the best protection.

Low risk

When on assignments or in projects of low risk, the security rules may be less strict, which allows an ordinary life like you have in your home country. You may be able to travel by public transport or even enjoy a holiday in the country.

Moderate risk

Many assignments pose a moderate level of risk. There is often a curfew at certain times of the day. The staff must generally report any movements and where they are located. They always have  communication equipment such as radio handset or mobile phones with them.

In some cases, there may be restrictions on contact with local personnel and local residents, choice of clothing or open alcohol use as it can result in safety hazards to you and/or MSF.

Working in one of our projects means you will be perceived as a representative of the organization. Your words and actions will affect your own safety and that of your team. This responsibility applies both during work hours and at leisure time.

High risk

On assignments with a high level of risk, your movements may be severely restricted. You may have to follow very strict instructions and procedures introduced by the Project Coordinator or Head of Mission.

In some situations, you may be forced to suspend your activities and get yourself to a safer place. In most cases, you can return to your work later when the situation has calmed down.

In extreme cases, the security situation can be such that you can not leave, even when that is what you really want. In such situations, it will be better to hold an evacuate until safe to do so.

Chain of responsibility

The Project Coordinator is responsible for the team's safety at project level. The Head of Mission is responsible for the security of the entire MSF programme in that country.

Team members must respect and follow their instructions.

Doctors and, in some cases, nurses together with the medical coordinator stationed in the capital, are responsible for international mobile staffs' health.

Each person, however, is ultimately responsible for their own safety. If you are not satisfied with the status of security, you can choose to leave the project as soon as the Project Coordinator or the Head of Mission deems it safe to do so.

MSF strives to keep you informed of the precautions necessary before accepting as assignment, for you to be able to take an informed decision. The ultimate responsibility is your own.

We do not transfer management of our security to other organizations.

Different types of risks

Working in MSF projects, you may face such risks as:

  • Environmental hazards like disasters, diseases and high stress are common in our projects. There are many ways to reduce the risk of diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, meningitis and hepatitis. One can take malaria medicine, vaccinations and use condoms. MSF covers the cost for the needed vaccinations in your area of assignment.
  • Traffic accidents are the leading cause of injury and death among project staff. The risk is increased because of driving habits and traffic discipline that may differ from Sweden/Finland. Traffic conditions can be especially chaotic and dangerous in conflict situations, and the infrastructure might be inadequate. Typically we use local hired drivers, but under certain circumstances, international staff can be driving themselves.
  • Petty crime is everywhere, especially in public places where many people congregate. Unfamiliar environments can be confusing and this can be exploited by thieves. International personnel are also at greater risk of falling victim to fraud and robbery, including armed robbery.
  • There is a risk, albeit small, of being the victim of violence. Including sexual violence. In extreme cases, armed groups engage in looting, kidnapping or attacks targeting MSF and other NGOs. MSF personnel can end up in the crossfire or risk seriously injury and death because of unexploded ordnance, land mines, grenade attacks and aerial bombings. This is unusual, but a certain amount of risk exists. We recommend that you consider these risks before applying for international programme work with MSF.
  • Psychological stress is also a risk associated with working under uncertain, unpredictable circumstances.