What is a Humanitarian Service Point

A humanitarian service point is a neutral space along migratory routes that provides a welcoming and safe environment for migrants to access essential services that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Migrants are persons who leave or flee their habitual residence to go to new places – usually abroad – to seek opportunities or safer and better prospects. Migration can be voluntary or involuntary, but most of the time a combination of choices and constraints are involved. This includes, among others, labour migrants, stateless migrants, and migrants deemed irregular by public authorities. It also concerns refugees and asylum seekers, notwithstanding the fact that they constitute a special category under international law.  

IFRC Policy on Migration, 2009

People migrating, irrespective of their legal status, receive the necessary humanitarian assistance and protection at all stages of the journey including addressing the specific needs of the most vulnerable migrants.

IFRC Global Strategy on Migration 2018–2022 Strategic Aim 1

Who are HSPs for?

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HSPs are a space where any migrant can access essential services. They are particularly for migrants that are marginalized and at risk. This includes irregular migrants, who may be denied access to local services or hesitate to access local services for fear of being reported to authorities.

When to set up an HSP?

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A gap in humanitarian assistance and protection for migrants

You could set up an HSP if there is a gap in humanitarian assistance and protection for migrants, particularly undocumented migrants. It also may be needed if migrants, including irregular and undocumented migrants, have nowhere to access information or assistance.

Where is an HSP?

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Migration routes

HSPs are situated along migration routes. But remember: many migrants’ journeys are not linear. Migrants may pause, double back, or change direction. They may be blocked by administrative, legal or physical barriers for example. They may pause, for months or years, to earn money for the next phase of their journey. As seen in the Italy Case Study, HSPs can and should respond to the changing needs of people at different stages of their journeys.

Understanding this more complex picture is important. Migrants have different needs, expectations, and levels of resilience. This can depend on personal attributes, experiences, and the nature and stage of their journey.

What does an HSP do?

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Activities you might find in an HSP

  • Information provision
  • Communication and connectivity, including mobile phone charging, WIFI, and access to a telephone or other forms of communication, if needed. 
  • Restoring Family Links. 
  • Food and non-food item distribution.
  • A clean and safe place to rest, sometimes including hot meals or snacks, showers, and even spaces to nap or sleep.  
  • First aid, basic health services.
  • Psychological first aid and possibly other mental health support. 
  • Safe referrals for a range of assistance, e.g. shelter/accommodation, health and mental healthcare, safe houses and other specialist care and support.

Key features of HSPs include:

A physical space

A place where essential services are provided to migrants

Run by Red Cross/Red Crescent actors

Providing a safe and welcoming environment for all migrants – irrespective of their status - to access essential services

A place where migrants are free from fear of arrest or being reported to authorities.

They are neutral spaces; they do not take a position on whether there should be more or less migration.

A point of referral to other essential services.

Community Engagement and Accountability (CEA) should always be mainstreamed.

Protection, Gender, and Inclusion (PGI) and related services should always be mainstreamed.

Egypt RC

The type of services HSPs offer varies from place to place, but they share the principle that migrants should be safe from the risk of detection, arrest, or removal while accessing services. Services that migrants are referred to from HSPs should share these values and principles.

  • Be realistic, and only commit to services you really have the capacity to provide. 
  • Continually analyse data about who is accessing services, and reassess their needs. 
  • Ensure that staff, volunteers, and service users are aware of what you can and cannot do.
  • Ensure you brief staff and volunteers about how to respond to concerns or issues raised by migrants that are outside of the scope of their experience or expertise. 
  • Put up signs/posters and have flyers available that explain to migrants in a variety of languages what services you do and do not offer, as well as where they can get other help.

Keep in mind that HSPs are not:

 An online space

Directed, controlled, or supervised by government or authorities

An official reception or registration centre (though it may be situated close to one). It should not be combined with registration, data collection, or government efforts to encourage or discourage migration.

A dignity, access, participation and safety (DAPS) centre, though the DAPS framework should be applied to activities in an HSP.

Intended to meet every need. It should not overcommit.

Address more complex needs people may have as a result of violence, exploitation, or abuse. This is a referral to be facilitated.


If you are not sure whether a service or activity is appropriate to an HSP, ask yourself who the service is for. If it is primarily for the benefit of migrants – direct assistance, referrals, or legal support, for example – then it probably is a good addition to your HSP. If it is primarily for the benefit of a government agency or administrative body, then it should probably take place elsewhere. 

Mozambique RC

What is a ‘safe and welcoming environment’?

An HSP should be a safe and welcoming place for all migrants – irrespective of their status. 

However,  an HSP should not be a refuge from the law for those who have committed crimes. 

A safe environment is free of violence, abuse or harm. In it, migrants should be able to access services without fear of identification, arrest, detention or interference from authorities or non-state actors.

As ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ can mean very different things depending on one’s background and experience, migrants must be consulted to understand their specific risk factors, taking into consideration gender, age, disability and other diversity factors. 

Migrants will look for familiar symbols that represent safety. For many, the RCRC emblem is one such symbol. This highlights the importance of adhering to the Fundamental Principles and protecting the emblem. 

Migrants consulted in developing this toolkit said they often seek out churches, mosques or other religious structures as they are often associated with asylum and refuge. While it is important that RCRC services are not seen as affiliated with any particular faith, it is useful to connect with religious groups or institutions so they are aware migrants in need or in distress can be referred to HSPs.

How to create a welcoming environment?

HSPs should not require people to give their name or identifying information. If asking for personal information, be clear about how it will be used, who will access it, and that data will be protected.

Monitor staff and volunteers’ application of data protection and confidentiality policies and procedures and address any poor practices or gaps.

HSPs should locate services where migrants are, when they are there, including evenings and weekends. It is important to consider different groups’ availability and ability to access the HSP. Consult to ensure that no one is inadvertently excluded, especially people from minority or marginalised groups.

Assess the location of services/activities and how this affects all aspects of accessibility –  physical, safety and financial – for people of different genders, background, age, and abilities. 

Be accessible. HSPs should consider language, culture, gender, physical access, and privacy. 

Ensure all services are safe, relevant and meaningful for people with disabilities, women and girls, men and boys and sexual and gender minorities of all ages. Apply the minimum standards, and protection, gender and inclusion tools, trainings and policies.

HSPs should ensure diversity of staff and volunteers in gender, age, ethnicity, language and disability. The composition of all teams should have equal gender balance: male, female and non-binary. Involving migrants in the HSP, including as staff and volunteers, can also support a welcoming environment. 

In line with IFRC's Gender and Diversity Policy(2020), IFRC have a zero tolerance for discrimination. Develop training and guidance for staff and volunteers on what discrimination is, how to deal with sensitive issues, and how to avoid inadvertently stigmatising service users.

Ensure safe and appropriate referral pathways are available, and that they are tested and monitored regularly to ensure they are functional, accessible, and inclusive. More guidance is available in referral pathways and in the PGI Toolkit

Establish effective feedback and complaints mechanisms to ensure migrants are included in designing and adapting programming, and that issues or concerns about staff or volunteers’ behaviour are reported and addressed. For more information, check out: Community Engagement and Accountability. 

Staff and volunteers in an HSP offer a "relationship" service, helping migrants maintain their dignity, strength, confidence and hope for the future. They should establish a relationship of mutual trust, based on dialogue, and understanding, helping negotiate and resolve problems. 

  • Listen to the person and support them in expressing their needs; 
  • Ask ‘open’ questions that do not prejudge the response or feel like an interrogation;
  • Provide a fair assessment of individual needs and be familiar with applicable services; 
  • Facilitate access to identified services; 
  • Deal with the person as an individual, not as a generic ‘migrant’;
  • Show sensitivity, recognition and respect for cultural diversity, suspending judgement of the person, their behaviour, opinions or views. 

Beware of attitudes and behaviours that put the relationship of trust at risk. E.g. avoid behaviour that might seem biased, judgmental or too involved in an individual’s situation.


How to build trust?

Provide objective information about risks.

Develop broad networks of local institutions, community leaders and members.

Harness the skills, expertise and guidance of migrants by involving them in all aspects of the HSP, including as staff and volunteers. 

Don’t seek to encourage or discourage migration. Be careful of partnerships with or referrals to organisations that do. Understand migrants’ perceptions of you and those you work with. 

Increase visibility by providing volunteers with T-shirts and ‘business cards’, putting posters and flyers at bus and train stations, and conducting awareness-raising. Focus on areas where the most marginalised can be reached. Conduct a risk assessment before increasing visibility as this can increase risk for migrants. 


What does an HSP look like?

An HSP can take a variety of physical forms. Temporary HSPs can be run under gazebos or tents, or even out of buses or vans. An HSP should fit the context in which it is placed, and respond to the needs of migrants.

Its structure should be informed by context, participatory needs assessment, and consultation with migrants of different genders and age groups, people with disabilities, and other diversity factors.

An HSP should be adaptable. It may be established as a temporary structure in an emergency, but if the need persists, it may be necessary to think about finding a hard structure to house it.

Different facilities may be required as needs change, including more/more private space, better connectivity, toilets, showers, refrigeration for food, etc. 

HSPs can be situated in a National Society branch office, but think carefully about branch capacity, and whether there is a risk it will be overwhelmed.

It may be more practical to house the HSP in a separate building nearby, allowing the branch to continue to use its premises for other activities, including the running of day-to-day operations, such as volunteer recruitment, training and support.

Think about physical location. It should be welcoming, safely accessible, and acceptable to the local community.

Is it a comfortable and safe neighborhood that is not out of place?

Is it visible with access that will not expose migrants to harm?

Are streets well lit, busy, and close to public transportation?

Have you thought of gender and diversity issues? For example: services are mostly for young men, it might be best to set up the HSP away from girls’ schools or where women shop.

Have you consulted the local community? You could hold an open house so that community members see the HSP and meet people in a warm and social environment.

Beware NIMBY!

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Not In My Back Yard!

NIMBY stands for ‘Not In My Back Yard’. Change can be disquieting and upsetting to people, and sometimes even people who are positive toward migrants have misgivings when they see changes close to home. Prepare well for community consultations. Think about what you will do if you are confronted with racism or xenophobia. How can you encourage people to welcome migrants? What do you do if they refuse? 


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Consult different groups to ensure they feel safe there. This should include women, young people, older people, and people of different gender identities. Ask whether they feel safe and can access services. If not, identify what barriers can be addressed.

Learn from National Societies

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Case Studies: