Teaching resource glossary

A guide to terms used in our teaching resources.

A boy holding an aid parcel.
Teacher briefing

This glossary is designed for teachers to help children and young people better understand and explore some of the words that commonly appear in our online teaching resources. For example: migration and international humanitarian law.


The glossary

Armed conflict

Armed conflict is another term used to describe “war”. “Armed” refers to the use of weapons in conflict or war – the word "arms" is used to refer to guns and other munitions. Armed conflicts can be international (between two or more countries), or non-international (taking place within one country), e.g. a “civil war”.

Asylum seeker

Someone who has left their home country and formally applied for recognition as a refugee in another country and is waiting for a decision on their application.

(Source: Adapted from a definition cited in the UNESCO glossary on migration)


Someone who is present at an incident as an onlooker or passerby, but does not act to help.

Child soldier

A child who has been recruited or used by an armed group in any capacity, e.g. as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. International humanitarian law expressly specifies that children should benefit from certain protection and prohibits children under 15 from being recruited as soldiers.


A member of the public who is not a member of the armed forces, nor are they taking part in the fighting. The status of a civilian is important to the Red Cross, as civilians are protected by the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law.


A group of people who may be united by geographical closeness (i.e. they live near each other) or through sharing a particular interest or feature of their identity. We often talk about people helping each other in a community.


Showing or treating someone with empathy, sympathy, consideration or kindness. It might involve caring for someone who has suffered or is suffering and supporting them in some way.


At small scale between individuals or small groups, and at larger scale between states, a conflict is a serious disagreement, argument or struggle, where parties sometimes seek resolution through violence. Also see armed conflict.


A crisis is a situation where someone needs help, whether because they are lonely, stranded, ill or finding it hard to cope. A crisis can affect an individual, their family and friends, a community, a country or the world. Each crisis is personal, no matter what the scale, and people may need to be supported in different ways.


A disaster is any event or occurrence that causes a devastating impact, whether natural or through human action. Disasters can result in a variety of humanitarian crises, such as loss of life, loss of home or property, loss of cultural heritage, injury, sickness or emotional trauma.

Disasters and Emergencies Committee

The Disasters and Emergencies Committee (DEC) is an organisation made up of 13 UK charities, including the British Red Cross. In times of need, normally in the event of an armed conflict or natural disaster, the DEC will work together to collectively raise funds and coordinate a response to get help to those who need it quickly.


The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different groups of people. This could be on the grounds of race, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, ethnic group, etc.


This is one of the key principles which underpins international humanitarian law. The principle of distinction means that people fighting in an armed conflict must distinguish between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects (crops, water sources, hospitals, schools) and military objectives (e.g. buildings and positions where enemy combatants and their arms are located). Being able to make these distinctions supports proportionate responses in armed conflict.


In human terms, diversity refers to the many differences that can exist between a group of people, whether in a community, country or the world. These differences can be based on age, race, gender, ethnicity, ability or other variables.


The red cross, the red crescent, and the red crystal emblems are used as visible signs of neutral protection in armed conflict situations.

  1. The emblems have two purposes:
  2. to protect sick and wounded victims of war

to indicate that the person or object on which the emblem is displayed is connected with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Those authorised to care for the sick and wounded can wear an emblem. Buildings and vehicles used to care for the sick and wounded in an armed conflict can be marked with an emblem.


An emergency describes an event that endangers someone's life, health, welfare or property. An emergency is often a serious, unexpected and potentially dangerous situation requiring immediate action.


The ability to understand and identify with the feelings of another.

First aid

The help given to a person immediately after they have become hurt, injured or unwell.

Fundamental principles

Seven fundamental principles guide and underpin the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement:

  • Humanity
  • Impartiality
  • Neutrality
  • Independence
  • Voluntary service
  • Unity
  • Universality


To raise money to fund the work of an organisation, such as the British Red Cross.

Geneva Conventions

The Geneva Conventions form the core of international humanitarian law, which regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects.

The conventions specifically protect people not taking part in conflict – civilians, with additional protections for children and health and aid workers – as well as those who are no longer participating, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of war.

Grab bag

A portable kit of essential items, documents and emergency supplies that you can grab when you have to leave your home quickly because of an emergency, such as a flood.

Hors de combat

A term used in international humanitarian law that refers to someone who is “out of the fight” or out of action. This is someone who:

  • is in the power of an adverse party, e.g. a prisoner of war
  • is defenceless because of being unresponsive, shipwrecked, wounded or sick
  • has clearly expressed an intention to surrender.

During armed conflict, it is prohibited to attack someone who is recognised as hors de combat.


The state or quality of being human and the collective name for all human beings.

Humanity also refers to the quality of being humane, which can be explained as “being kind and caring towards others”. It is possible to show humanity through empathy (sharing the feelings of others) and through actions (directly helping others).


Someone who acts with humanity, kindness, benevolence or empathy towards other human beings.


Identity refers to who we are and is made up of a mix of factors, including physical factors (i.e. gender, race) and social/cultural factors (i.e. family, language, ethnic group, religion) and emotional factors (i.e. feelings, values, dispositions). Identity is especially important in relation to humanitarianism and to dignity.

Internally displaced person

Someone who has been forced to leave their home, often because of conflict, and has had to relocate or been forcibly relocated to another area within their home country.

International humanitarian law (IHL)

A set of rules that seek to limit the suffering and damage that war and armed conflict inflicts on people, property and the environment. International humanitarian law protects people who are not, or who are no longer, participating in hostilities. International humanitarian law is also known as the “rules of war” or the Law of Armed Conflict.

Irregular migrant

Someone who does not hold the required legal status or travel documents to enter or remain in a country.

Labour migrant

Someone who migrates for the purposes of employment. The term “economic migration” is sometimes used interchangeably with labour migration. However economic migration is broader and can encompass migration for the purposes of improving quality of life in social and economic terms.


Someone who leaves or flees their home and travels to live in another country or region. Migration can be temporary or permanent and can be for a variety of reasons, including to seek opportunities or safer and better prospects. The term migrant is therefore broad and can include asylum seekers, refugees, internally displaced people, labour or economic migrants and irregular migrants. 

Migrant smuggling

The movement of people across borders, for a fee. Smuggled people (usually) consent to being transported.


The process of people leaving their countries and regions of origin and travelling to other countries or regions to live.


A term used in international humanitarian law which refers to acts that are against the law.


This is one of the key principles which underpins international humanitarian law. The principle of proportionality seeks to limit the impact of military action against civilians and civilian property or infrastructure (dams, bridges, water supplies, etc). It is against the law to launch an attack which would cause excessive loss of civilian life, injuries and damage to property when considering the real and direct military advantage that the attack might achieve.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

The world’s largest independent humanitarian network is made of three parts:

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was established in 1863 in Geneva. The ICRC is at the origin of the Geneva Conventions. Its mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. It also endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles.
  • The international Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) comprises 190 member Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies. It coordinates and directs international relief actions for people affected by natural disasters, and for refugees and displaced persons outside of conflict zones.
  • 190 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in almost every country of the world work to help people within their own countries and support other National Societies internationally to help people all over the world in crisis.


A place or situation providing safety or shelter from danger, persecution or other difficulties.


A person who – owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion – has left their home country. As a result they are unable or unwilling to seek protection from, or return to, their home country.

(Source: adapted from the definitions in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees)


Having the ability, skills, behaviours and coping strategies to support yourself and others during times of change or a sudden shift in circumstances, such as a crisis caused by a disaster or emergency.


The potential for danger in a situation where possible outcomes could include loss of life and/or limb and damage to health or emotional well-being.


A place of refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution or other danger.

Shared humanity

Recognising the things we have in common with other human beings. These can include:

  • relationships (we all have a mother, we are all part of the human race)
  • feelings and emotions (we can all be happy, sad, cross, sorry, we can all show love)
  • basic needs (we all need food, we all need water, we all need the right amount of warmth)
  • actions (we can all show affection, we can all be kind, we can all help someone else)


A person who serves in the armed forces.


Stigma is a negative association with a particular circumstance, quality or person. It often comes from misunderstanding or fear of the unknown. Discrimination may follow, as individuals or groups of people are treated unjustly as a result of prejudiced views.


Like smuggling, trafficking may also include the movement of people within a country or across international borders. However, unlike smuggling, trafficking is done without consent – or without informed and valid consent – for the purposes of exploitation.
It is possible that a person may become trafficked even if they believe they are being smuggled. For example, they may have been deceived by the smuggler, or they may be vulnerable to trafficking once they have been smuggled and reached their destination.


A deeply distressing or disturbing experience, from which people often need help recovering.


The act of going against or refusing to obey a law or agreement, or on a more personal level, the act of not respecting somebody's rights, peace, privacy, etc. Violation is an important concept in relation to international humanitarian law as well as in underlying humanitarian concepts and principles such as dignity.


A person who freely offers their time or expertise, taking part in tasks and voluntary work. Over 100 million Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement volunteers work across the world to help people in crisis.


This resource was written by Rob Bowden and Rosie Wilson of Lifeworlds Learning and published in March 2016.

The photo shows a boy in Iraq holding an aid parcel © Ibrahim Sherkhan/ICRC.