Protection of refugees comprises both the physical safety and well-being of refugees, and the guarantee of their legal and human rights. Traditionally, protection has been the responsibility of the UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Organizations like the International Rescue Committee - who provide food, water, sanitation, health care and education to refugees - have not usually concerned themselves with questions of legal rights and physical protection in the context of their worldwide operations, though they may have been vigorous advocates of refugee rights in national and international forums.
The assumption has been that the UNHCR and the ICRC would take care of refugee rights and protection, and that involvement in these controversial issues could jeopardize implementing agencies' ability to carry out their humanitarian mission.
This situation is changing. The increasing violence of conflicts, huge numbers of refugees and displaced persons in the world and the strain on resources to deal with them have eroded the protection of refugees. The UNHCR and ICRC can no longer carry out their legal and protection mandate without the active cooperation of the NGO's with whom they work.
Both to support more effective and more consistent cooperation on protection issues among all agencies that serve refugees and to integrate protection issues fully into its own programs, the IRC has established a protection team based in New York.