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Should we discriminate in order to act? Profiling: a necessary but debated practice

Date de publication

 Head of Research Unit of UREPH (Research Unit on Humanitarian Stakes and Practices) of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Geneva,  Switzerland)

Michaël Neuman

Director of studies at Crash / Médecins sans Frontières, Michaël Neuman graduated in Contemporary History and International Relations (University Paris-I). He joined Médecins sans Frontières in 1999 and has worked both on the ground (Balkans, Sudan, Caucasus, West Africa) and in headquarters (New York, Paris as deputy director responsible for programmes). He has also carried out research on issues of immigration and geopolitics. He is co-editor of "Humanitarian negotiations Revealed, the MSF experience" (London: Hurst and Co, 2011). He is also the co-editor of "Saving lives and staying alive. Humanitarian Security in the Age of Risk Management" (London: Hurst and Co, 2016).

In this article for the Humanitarian Practice Network, head of the Research Unit on Humanitarian Stakes and Practices (UREPH) for MSF Geneva Françoise Duroch and Crash director of studies Michaël Neuman discuss the implications and reasons behind the growing practice of staff profiling for MSF.

In October 2020, MSF organised a workshop in Dakar on staff profiling in operations in the Sahel. Profiling involves the selection of staff based on non-professional criteria, including nationality, skin colour, gender and religion. As such, it raises a number of ethical and practical concerns. As a result of profiling, US nationals have not been deployed in MSF operations in Colombia because of the risk of kidnapping, and Chadians and Rwandans have been excluded in the Central African Republic and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo respectively, because of regional conflicts. The use of profiling has increased in recent years in West Africa, as the threat of kidnapping of Westerners by radical jihadist groups has intensified.

The rationale for profiling

The reduction in the number of Western staff of humanitarian agencies in certain parts of the world is in response to a genuine risk of kidnapping, as one workshop participant put it: ‘Everyone agrees that there are some nationalities that can’t go to these areas, so how can we adapt and continue to do operations for these populations in need?’. Over the last few years, measures aimed at promoting staff from Africa do seem to have enabled operations to go ahead that would otherwise have been difficult or impossible to develop, particularly in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria.

Read the full article on the Humanitarian Practice Network's website

To cite this content :
Françoise Duroch , Michaël Neuman, Should we discriminate in order to act? Profiling: a necessary but debated practice, 28 January 2021, URL : https://www.msf-crash.org/en/blog/humanitarian-actors-and-practices/should-we-discriminate-order-act-profiling-necessary-debated

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