Crossing Borders and Frontiers


Joyce van Genderen-Naar

The landscape of international development cooperation is coloured by many actors and organisations. Among them are doctors, engineers, architects, lawyers, economists, sociologist, and journalists, crossing borders and frontiers all over the world. They established international non-governmental organisations on the basis of their profession to work in countries which are at war or in conflict situations. Their work brings along risks, dangers and although characterised by impartiality, neutrality and independence, it is sometimes controversial and criticised as partial and interfering in state affairs. One of the reasons could be the lack of information and understanding about their objectives and their working-method as well as the cooperation and communication with national governments and local experts.


View on Nyanzale Refugees Camp (North Kivu, DRC).© Cédric Gerbehaye/Agence VU (
Well known are the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international medical humanitarian organisation created in 1971 by doctors and journalists in France. MSF provides aid/medical care in nearly 60 countries to people in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation, on the basis of need and independent access to victims of conflict as required under international humanitarian law. Medical teams conduct evaluations on the ground to determine the medical needs and care for people who suffer from violence, neglect, or catastrophe, due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care or natural disasters. MSF says that the key to act independently in response to a crisis is its independent funding. Eighty-nine percent of MSF's overall funding comes from private sources, not governments. Website:

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) are formed by several non-governmental organisations in several countries, focused on engineering and construction in international development work and strongly linked to academia and students. Engineers without Borders/Ingénieurs sans frontières (ISF)-France was founded in the 1980s, followed by ISF-Spain and ISF-Italy in the 1990s and EWB-Canada, one of the largest of the EWB organisations, in the late 1990s and many other EWB/ISF groups around the world. Website:

Architects Without Borders is a non-governmental not-for-profit volunteer humanitarian relief organisation, providing technical assistance and support for recovery and reconstruction programs in countries that suffer from economic crisis, human conflict and natural disaster, such as the Tsunami in Asia. Website:

Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) was founded in 1992 in Belgium, sending lawyers without borders, lawyers for lawyers, abroad to take part in sensitive trials and to assist or represent human rights lawyers and human rights activists persecuted for exercising their profession. Lawyers without borders defended the accused and represented the victims in Rwandan courts and between 1995 and 1998 lawyers were trained in Arusha, Tanzania, for appearance before the International Court (ICC) in Rwanda. Website:

International Lawyers and Economists against Poverty (ILEAP)/Juristes et Economistes Internationaux contre la Pauvrete (JEICP), is an independent non-profit organisation, launched in Nairobi in May 2002 and established as a non-profit organisation in Canada. The work of ILEAP is focused on increasing the capacity and participation of development countries in international negotiations. African and Caribbean experts are trained by ILEAP for the negotiations of the economic partnership agreements (EPA) with the European Community. Capacity building is provided by trade professionals from several countries.

Association Studies Without Borders/Études sans frontières is a more recent nonprofit association, founded in Paris in March 2003 by young French citizens with the support of international personalities, such as Vaclav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, who considers education as a guarantee for peace promotion, solidarity and sustainable development. Through Studies Without Borders young people, who are not able to study in their own country due to crisis, can continue and resume their studies in Europe and North America, and go back to their country when the situation permits. A total of 190 students from Chechnya, Congo, Rwanda and Western Sahara benefited from the programs of Studies Without Borders.

Reporters without Borders/Reporters sans frontières (RSF), is a Paris-based international non-governmental organisation, founded in 1985, to advocate freedom of the press, the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas regardless of frontiers, in accordance with Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. RWB compiles and publishes an annual ranking of countries based upon the organisation’s assessment of their press freedom records. The impartiality of Reporters Without Borders is not universally accepted. Criticisms concern RWB’s funding (a significant amount of funding, 19% of total, comes from certain western governments and organisations), its anti-Castro and anti-Chavez reporting, its methodology in ranking press freedom and the lack of direct understanding of existing laws in ranked countries. Website:

Sociologists Without Borders was founded in Spain in 2001, as a non-governmental organisation, and has established chapters in Madrid, Catalonia, Valencia, USA, Brazil, and Italy, and others are in formation. Sociologists Without Borders became visible as first professional group that made a critical statement against the United States government unilateral intervention in Iraq. In 2004 and 2005, young sociologists joined the Kibera project, an international effort in support of the welfare and development of a poor slum quarter of Nairobi. Sociologists Without Borders work together with journalists to collect and analyse relevant information for the public. Website:

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