accessibility & help

Barriers to humanity

At a border town in Turkey, aid workers hand bottles of water through barbed wire to people who have fled armed conflict in northern Syria.

Use this activity to explore how humanitarian actions must sometimes overcome difficult barriers for help to reach those who need it.


Learning objectives


By the end of this activity students will be able to:

  • Identify barriers to humanitarian actions in a conflict zone and discuss practical solutions.
  • Explore some of the emotions associated with having to flee your home because of violent conflict.


At the border 

Show students the photograph. Ask them to think about the emotions of those pictured.

What might it feel like to hand out bottles of water through barbed wire?

What might it feel like to reach through barbed wire to get water?

After sharing responses, explain the setting:

  • The photograph shows an aid worker in Suruc, a border town in Turkey, giving water to people who have fled armed conflict in northern Syria. Some have walked. Others have come in the vehicles which are queued in the background.
  • Aid workers are there to supply survival basics, such as water, as the people await permission to enter Turkey as refugees.
  • The aid worker is wearing a face mask as protection against sandstorms.
  • The wire fencing, which includes barbed wire, marks the border between Syria and Turkey.
  • In the week that the picture was taken, at the end of September 2014, more than 160,000 people crossed the border.

Ask students why the people seeking refuge have to wait behind the barrier. Why can't people just come straight into Turkey? Invite ideas and discuss. Explain that the Turkish authorities have different checks and procedures in place before admitting refugees.

A couple of these checks and procedures are:

  • Health checks. All newly arrived children under 15 years of age are vaccinated for polio and measles and issued vaccination cards. Why is this important? 
  • Transfer people for registration. Refugees are then issued with an ID card to access services in the country. What kinds of services might refugees need?

Barriers to humanitarian action

The barbed wire is a physical barrier between the person helping and those being helped.

Each of the situations below describes a different practical barrier to humanitarian aid in a conflict zone.



  1. A group of people fleeing armed conflict are heading for the border crossing to a safe country. But there's a minefield in the way.
  2. People are arriving hungry and thirsty at a border crossing. How can the aid agency give out water bottles, energy biscuits and hot meals to up to 18,000 people arriving every day?
  3. Civilians trapped in a conflict zone have no access to essential medicines or treatment. Health care workers risk being caught in cross-fire, or even targeted.
  4. Organisers of an aid convey bringing food and clothing want to travel through an area where there have been recent kidnappings.
  5. An aid agency needs to transport large numbers of tents, blankets, heaters, kitchen sets and mattresses across an area where law enforcement is weak.
  6. A family is travelling out of a conflict zone and trying to reach the border crossing. But they have no transport, and the grandmother uses a wheelchair which is hopeless for crossing rough, stony ground.


Possible solutions

Ask young people what they think the best solution might be to each of the scenarios.

They can suggest their own solutions or you could give them some prompters using the options listed below:

  • Money
  • Accurate information
  • Good organisation and coordination
  • Logistical and practical solutions: e.g. waiting for better weather, finding better roads and transport
  • More supplies
  • More volunteers
  • Negotiation and agreement
  • Something else – specify

[For an active exercise, create cards of the above solutions and spread them around the room for students to find.]


Verse on the wire

Write a poem or rap based on the photograph. Begin by asking students to find words that might describe the picture and the emotions it represents. Work in pairs or small groups. Draw on the discussion at the beginning of the activity.

If helpful, use the following list as a prompt.

Separation             Desperation             Need             Thirst

Aid             Frustration             Relief              Anger             Conflict

Fear             Refugees             Sharing             Survival             Humanity

Barrier             Water                 Life                Action             Help         Gratitude

Privilege             Caring             Deprivation             Dehydration 


Dealing with fear

[Before running this activity, review it to make sure it is appropriate for the group of young people you are working with, particularly if any have experienced traumatic events in their lives.]

Not surprisingly, many children who have left Syria sometimes feel afraid. They may have witnessed things that have scared them. They may feel unsafe, that people are out to hurt them.

Invite students to discuss strategies for dealing with fear. How would they help a friend who was in distress, feeling panicky or anxious? What would they do? And what wouldn’t they do?

Use the emotional support briefing for ideas.


Hopes for the future

Imagine a Syrian refugee your own age. At home they had their own bedroom and their own things. Now, like most Syrian refugees in Turkey, they are staying in a crowded temporary shelter with friends and very few personal possessions.

They know their old home is probably destroyed. But dreaming about the new one their family plans to build helps them through the hard times.

If it were you, what would you be most looking forward in a new home? Make a list in priority order.




This resource was written by PJ White of Alt62 and published in October 2014.


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