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Secure and Open: Avoiding walls and building communities.

A conversation with Karl Julisson - member of the Global Security Unit of the International Federation of the Red Cross


Security is a sensitive topic. There is a thin line between ensuring safety to those who belong to a space and making sure it remains welcoming and open to all. Especially for an institution that is engaged with issues of peace and safety on a global level. For this reason, the words of Karl Julisson, who heads the Global Security Unit at the IFRC Geneva headquarters, are especially poignant. In a conversation with us, he pointed out that issues of security are ultimately tied to issues of community. Having fences, walls and barriers give signals that the space is fortified and closed to the community. Such moves can never really provide a sense of security to those who share that space. If anything at all, they create a sense of rupture from the neighbourhood.

At the same time, it is helpful to remember that security is important beyond issues of safety. People at work need to feel secure and comfortable within their spaces. They don’t want to be disturbed and need an environment that gives them a sense of comfort. Personal work spaces depend on a different kind of boundary – that get formed through a sense of mutual concern of and sensitivity to colleagues and fellow-workers.

On the other hand, no work space is successful unless it gives its workers an opportunity to interact with each other either. Without shared spaces, points of meeting, opportunities to eat together – we cannot have a healthy work environment. Which means that even within an institutional context, there is a need for balance – between protecting users from disturbance from each other and making sure they have opportunities to interact with each other.

A similar duality extends into the larger dynamic. Just as people within the IFRC office see the building and the institutional framework as a protective shield, the IFRC building too is encased in its own environment – the neighborhood that surrounds it. While it may need some level of autonomy, from its context for efficient functioning, it can never close itself to it.

It is to the credit of the IFRC that it is making a concerted move to actually build ties with its surroundings, create avenues for interacting with the community and provide opportunities to share space with the inhabitants in the community park. This dovetails perfectly with the views of Karl Julisson. With reference to the ongoing participatory process for the IFRC community park he says – ‘Personally I feel it's an opportunity to integrate the community more closely with the Federation… What are we trying to protect against? The risks are very low here…our approach has been, and still continues to be, accessibility for visitors for the community….’

Our conversation with him made the links between the concepts of the environment, community and security very clear. They should not be treated as discrete categories but as ones that overlap. Environments provide security at several levels and they cannot be reduced to their physical connotation alone. They are enmeshed within the social dimension. After all, neighbourhood life is predicated on human presence. In this sense a community made up of social interactions is an environment too. One that acts as a shield, providing a layer of protection to all those who exist within it.


Interview with Karl Julisson

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