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Humanitarian action in France is characterised by the existence of numerous NGOs (most of them funded by the State and institutional donors) and a very strong national Red Cross society and a solid trend of humanitarian actors towards professionalisation, proof of which are the number of higher education degrees and training available in this field.

emergency response, rehabilitation, development
NGOs, international organisations
88 million euros

Scope of involvement


French involvement in humanitarian action is related to international crises. Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East are the regions which receive the majority of French funds.


Turning point

‘French doctors’ claimed to witness genocide in Biafra in 1967 and founded the movement ‘without borders’ which gave rise to ‘Doctors without Borders’ created in 1971 and aimed at providing humanitarian aid that is independent from the State with citizens’ support.


Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

NGOs are the main type of humanitarian actor in France, these are primarily funded by the French State. In the second half of the 70s, new conflicts, mostly internal, arose (Angola, Cambodia, Afghanistan). Institutions from the Red Cross movement were unable to intervene to support all the vulnerable populations, hence other humanitarian associations stepped in. In 1980, following diverging positions on the situation in Vietnam, Doctors of the World (Medecins de Monde) was created. The 80s were characterised by the increase of relief actions at the cost of development ( which was more dependent on public funds) and by the increased number of NGOs. The 90s and 2000s saw a trend towards professionalisation of humanitarian workers, and tackling issues related to standardisation of actions, security issues and access problems.

National Red Cross Society

The French Red Cross was founded in 1864 and is legally constituted as an association (1901 French law). The French Red Cross’ peculiarity is its double nature; it is simultaneously a national society, an association, and a non-profit organisation with social objectives; it acts as a subsidiary actor of the State. It counts 54 000 volunteers, 18 000 employees, 1034 local units, 107 territorial delegations and 678 establishments in the fields of health and training making it one of the most important actors across the board.

Private Sector

Trade unions, foundations (with the exception of the ‘Fondation de France’), political parties and the private sector are not considered as specific humanitarian actors.

State humanitarianism

Ministries or State agencies involved

In France, humanitarian action is managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, specifically by the Crisis Centre. Created in July 2008, the Crisis Centre is responsible for co-ordinating the action of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs international crisis response, whether related to humanitarian needs or involving French citizens overseas. Hence action is not exclusively dedicated to humanitarian action.

Legal framework

Decree 2009-291 (16 March 2009 ), article 3-IV. Until 2012, there was neither a clearly defined French humanitarian strategy nor institutional structures responsible for dialogue between the French administration and the humanitarian actors. This framework is now in place thanks to the Humanitarian Strategy agreed upon in July 2012 with the responsible dialogue group it created. France has drawn up a national humanitarian strategy with three objectives; meeting needs of vulnerable populations; making humanitarian action part of a comprehensive framework, and linking it both to a development strategy aimed at building local capacities and to actions of prevention and enhancement of population’s resilience. Periodic reassessment of the relevance of choices through dialogue between State humanitarian policy officials and civil society representatives is also a priority.

Principles and accountability

The newly adopted French humanitarian strategy provides some guiding principles for France’s humanitarian action (IHL, international HR law, humanitarian principles, European Consensus, GHD initiative), and its objectives and its working methods (strengthening of cooperation processes with the EU and the UN, partnership with NGOs, coordination between humanitarian aid and development assistance).


The interaction between the State and French NGOs mainly focuses on the issues of dependency towards public funds (French or European).

Specific focus

Linking Relief Rehabilitation Development

Lines are now blurred between the two fields. The 2012 French humanitarian strategy pays attention to LRRD since it intends to make humanitarian action part of a comprehensive framework including development.


Humanitarian Education

Higher education

Around 20 Universities offer one or several degrees in humanitarian action, most of them are Masters Degrees combining humanitarian and development education. Skills and competencies are acquired in a conventional way, i.e. by classroom learning. Distance learning is practised by a few higher education schools.

In-house training

Training sessions are organised by the Red Cross.

Specialised organisations

Specific Training is offered by institutions such as Bioforce, IFAID or the group URD.


France. MINISTERE DES AFFAIRES ETRANGERES (2012) Rapport d'activité sur l'action humanitaire d'urgence 2012.

DOMESTICI-MET, M.-J. (ed.) (2002) L'aide humanitaire à l'orée du troisième millénaire. Aix-en-Provence: Presses universitaires d'Aix-Marseille.

LE COCONNIER M.-L., POMMIER B. (2012), L’action humanitaire. Paris : PUF.

RYFMAN P. (2008) Une histoire de l'humanitaire. Paris: La Découverte. (2012) L'humanitaire, Questions internationales. 56. 1-84 ;116-127


Pascal GAUTTIER, Rossitza BARAKOVA and Céline MARTIN
Aix Marseille University

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