EU Human Rights Defenders Relocation Platform

Getting involved in Temporary Relocation of HRDs, and in the Platform


Cities can play a crucial role in providing temporary relocation to HRDs at risk.

Examples are the cities who are part of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) offering temporary relocation to threatened writers, some of whom are HRDs, for a period of up to two years.  ICORN cities fund travel expenses, facilitate visas, provide accomodation and a living allowances to their guests.  These commitments are detailed in the membership agreement that the cities sign with ICORN.

Another example comes from The Netherlands, where more and more cities are becoming « shelter cities »  in the framework of a project initiated by the NGO Justice and Peace.  The first shelter city was The Hague which provides funding for the visit of the HRD, including for accomodation.  By publicizing its support of temporary shelter of HRDs, The Hague contributes to its image as the city of international peace and justice.  The city of Middelburg became a shelter city in 2014.  A staff person of the municipality spends part of his time supervising the project.  He coordinates a working group, which includes a local university, the municipal social services department, and other local actors who support the visit of the HRD.  The coordinator arranges for media publicity about the programme and about the HRD and his or her work and involves the HRD in public events organized by the municipality.  The city provides funding for accomodation, a living allowance, some travel costs and incidental expenses.  The city of Nijmegen was the third city to join.  It provides funding for the visit of the HRD, and helps identify and coordinate local actors who support the HRD.

The city of Paris provides support to the « House of Journalists » (Maison des Journalistes) which hosts journalists who are threatened in their home country. The city provides accomodation and a living allowance allowing hosted journalists to participate in language courses and social and integration programmes.

While they play a crucial role in offering temporary relocation to HRDs at risk, cities enter partnerships with other actors such as NGOs and universities who select the HRDs to be hosted and support them during their relocation.



Universities can provide HRDs with opportunities to build their knowledge and skills, continue their work, build their international network and enjoy rest and recuperation.  Here are a few examples of what universities can do:

In the UK, the University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights, through its Protective Fellowship Scheme for Human Rights Defenders at Risk.  The University hosts HRDs for 3-6 months.  The university provides the HRDs with accomodation and the opportunity to follow courses which are relevant to their human rights work.

In The Netherlands, the University College Roosevelt is involved in "Shelter City Middelburg."  The college provides a HRD with office space and facilities, Internet and library access, and the opportunity to lecture or follow a course.  Student volunteers support the HRD in arranging and accompanying them to meetings, organizing seminars, etc.

Other examples are what universities who are members of the Scholars at Risk Network  (SAR) do help threatened scholars.  Universities could join the SAR network.  SAR has produced a handbook for universities describing what is involved in becoming a member of SAR and hosting a scholar at risk.  Universities might develop partnerships with other actors (such as NGOs or local authorities) who identify HRD candidates or provide accomodation or other services.  Depending on their size, programmes might be handled within existing budgets or additional funds be raised.



Many NGOs also provide support for temporary relocation of human rights defenders at risk.

Front Line Defenders provides financial support through its security grants programme, for temporary relocation of human rights defenders in emergency situations. Temporary relocation at the local, national and regional levels is prioritised. In 2014, Front Line Defenders provided temporary relocation grants to 131 HRDs at immediate risk.

In some cases, for human rights defenders whose lives are at immediate risk, Front Line Defenders can facilitate applications for a temporary humanitarian visa to Ireland, through a short-stay visa scheme established by the Irish Government to ensure the safety of human rights defenders.  

Front Line Defenders also provides support to human rights defenders to recuperate from burnout and stress through its Rest & Respite Programme. Fellowships offer HRDs at risk the possibility to take some time out from their normal work to undertake a project which will further develop their capacities and contribute to the protection of human rights defenders internationally. Fellowships are offered on a flexible basis for periods of up to three months in Dublin or other locations to be discussed with the HRD (according to contact base, strategic opportunities, courses available). Human rights defenders can choose to work on a project of their choice; improve English fluency; learn about tools for online security, or focus on advocacy, network-building etc.

Forty-one HRDs were supported on rest and respite in 2014. Seven human rights defenders from Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia came to Dublin to study English on the Fellowship Programme. One human rights defender was provided with a humanitarian visa for Ireland and 30 HRDs, together with family members, were supported to take a short break from their work environment to recover from burnout and stress.


National Governments

National governments, through their Ministries of Foreign Affairs and other ministries, play a crucial role in the temporary relocation of human rights defenders.  They develop and implement policies to support and protect HRDs, including through temporary relocation.  Through their contacts with HRDs and human rights organizations, especially through their embassies, they identify HRDs who need temporary relocation and can refer them to appropriate programmes.  They provide funding for temporary relocation programmes in their own country or in countries or regions of HRDs at risk and for other relevant projects.  Not least, they provide visas for HRDs at risk to enable them to stay in their country.

According to the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, the EU and its member states should “provide measures for swift assistance and protection to human rights defenders in danger in third countries, such as, where appropriate, issuing emergency visas and facilitating temporary shelter in the EU member states.”

In accordance with this, The Netherlands, in its “Action Plan for Human Rights Defenders” (March 2012), says it will

facilitate the expedited issue of Schengen short-stay visas for human rights defenders in distress who are seeking a temporary stay in the Netherlands. The initiative for applying to the Dutch embassy for a visa lies with the human rights defender him- or herself. Civil society groups and, in some cases, municipalities and other partners take responsibility for hosting and financially supporting the individual after arrival in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs has helped establish a network of “shelter cities” in The Netherlands.  It requests it embassies to nominate HRDs at risk for the programme and participates in selecting the HRDs who will be “sheltered.”  Through an agreement with the Ministry of Justice, it ensures that visas are quickly issued to the HRDs concerned.  It also provides funding for the hosting of the HRD during their three-month visit to The Netherlands. 

In Spain, the Office for Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has run a temporary shelter programme since 1995.  It is open to all types of HRDs at risk with no geographical restrictions.  The HRD and his/her family can be hosted by the programme for a maximum period of 12 months.  He/she  is provided with a residency permit with no entitlement to work.  The HRD is provided financial support for a maximum period of 12 months amounting to 1,200 Euros/month if the HRD is alone, or 1,350 Euros/month if the HRD is accompanied by his/her family.  Access to the public health system is also provided under this scheme.  The HRD has to be proposed by a requesting organization, who is responsible for providing any needed additional financial or other support to the HRD during his/her stay.

The Czech Republic provides financial support for the temporary relocation of HRDs to the Czech Republic.  The programme is implemented by a local NGO, People in Need.


Becoming a Member of the Platform

Members can be cities, universities, NGOs, professional organizations/associations, etc.  They do any of the following kinds of activities:

  • Activities related to the temporary relocation of HRDs at risk, either within the same country or region, or outside the region (for example, to European countries).
  • Provide emergency or other assistance (means of communication, trackers, etc.) to HRDs at risk (including through an emergency hotline).
  • Following up of the situation of relocated HRDs once they return to their country (in-country protection)
  • Providing opportunities for HRDs at risk to temporarily leave their country.
  • Assisting HRDs in danger to identify and apply for programmes through which they are able to temporarily leave their country.
  • Supporting HRDs who - due to danger/threats – are temporarily relocated.  Support could include:
    • legal aid
    • medical treatment
    • psychological/rehabilitation support
    • internships
    • fellowships/scholarships
    • office facilities
    • accommodation
    • visas/residency permits
    • educational opportunities/capacity building
    • funding/financial support to programmes
  • Work with/can identify HRDs in danger; assist them in cases where such HRDs need to be relocated.


Procedure for Becoming a Member

To become a member, contact the coordinator of the platform, Guus van Zwoll: gvanzwoll [at]