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Current debate tends to suggest that the protection of civilians is something ‘done to’ the passive recipients of international largesse. Whether in terms of macro-level interventions of the UN Security Council or micro-level attempts to reduce the negative side-effects of relief action, those in need of protection are rarely seen as key players in their own futures. Although this type of external intervention can be valuable, it fails to take complete account of how people manage to survive the effects of conflicts. This concept of protection seriously underestimates the resourcefulness of people who have no choice, and using it to define protection results in missed opportunities to help communities as they are being forced to adapt to their new realities. Effective humanitarian action will thus not only focus on the actions of those with a responsibility to protect, but will also support and strengthen the rational decisions that people themselves take to try to ensure their own safety in conflict.

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