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The Sphere Project has developed a set a set of universal minimum standards in core areas of humanitarian response (hereafter “the Sphere standards”) with the aim of ensuring quality and accountability of assistance and protection in line with humanitarian principles. Initiated in 1997 by a group of NGOs and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Sphere is now among the main references in the humanitarian field. 

Sphere standards derive from the principle of the right to life with dignity and concern four key sectors: a) water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion; b) food security and nutrition; c) shelter and settlement and d) health. In cases where the minimum requirements exceed the living conditions of the host community, measures shall be taken to reduce potential tension, for example by extending services to the local community. In some situations, national authorities may establish minimum requirements that are higher than the Sphere standards and shall therefore be taken into account. 

At a minimum, migrant centres shall comply with the following Sphere standards:

- 1 toilet to 20 people, located at least 30 meters from water sources. The bottom of the pits shall be should be at least 1.5m above the groundwater table;

- 1 shower to 20 people (interpretation of Sphere as there is no specific ratio for bathing facilities;

- 20 liters of water available per person per day;

- Total area of minimum of 30 sq. meters per person (“Where communal services can be provided by existing or additional facilities outside of the planned area of the settlement, the minimum usable surface area should be 30m2 for each person.”);

- Living area of minimum of 3.5 sq. meters per person (“A covered floor area more than 3.5m2 per person will often be required to meet these considerations.”).


The configurations of the facilities must ensure the respect of migrants’ rights and facilitate the provision of services. Even though needs vary according to the type of facility, its capacity, the needs of its beneficiaries and the services it offers, an ideal layout should take into account the following guidance:

- Perimeter: The building shall preferably be a standalone facility with restricted public access. In order to ensure the security of both staff and beneficiaries, the perimeter should be fenced and only few entrance/exit points left open. Fencing shall be closely coordinated with IOM security officers (see this entry) and it shall not imply any kind of coercion. Beneficiaries shall enjoy freedom of movement, compatibly with the facilities’ rules (e.g. night curfew). IOM does not operate any closed/detention facility.

- Communal areas: migrant centres shall have one or more communal areas where beneficiaries can gather during the day for meals and common recreational activities. If possible, eating areas shall be separated from other common spaces, and a shift system established if it the space is not sufficient for all the guests. Recreational areas should be designed to ensure the psychological well-being of the beneficiaries and they shall be equipped to ensure comfort (chairs, tables, fans, etc.) and diversion (television, board games, books, etc.). Ideally, part of this space should be open-air.

- Sleeping areas: The design and disposition of the rooms should allow proper privacy and respect for cultural and gender sensitivity. Male and female accommodation shall be separated and a reserved space should be dedicated for families. Rooms must have proper dimensions for their intended capacity, and elements for adequate living conditions must be in place (e.g. no units without windows). For more guidance on facilities providing accommodation, consult this entry.

-Spaces for counseling/interviews/consultations/mental health and psychosocial support activities: depending on the services provided at the facility, one or more separate room should be dedicated to the services carried out by IOM staff or implementing partners. This space should be adequately equipped in order to facilitate the implementation of activities and guarantee privacy during individual encounters.

- Infirmary: If medical assistance is among the services provided by the centre, a dedicated room to be used as infirmary shall be foreseen. See also this entry on health and medical services.

- Child-friendly spaces: Indoor and/or outdoor adequate and safe communal spaces shall be foreseen for children’s activities, education, and play. Furthermore, physical dangers in the facility (holes, open water, etc.) shall be addressed to prevent injuries to children and caregivers. For more guidance, please consult this entry.

- Area for vulnerable beneficiaries: If relevant to the migrant centre services and targeted beneficiaries, a private and separate area for beneficiaries with specific vulnerabilities may be foreseen (e.g. a dedicated space for women who just gave birth, or for beneficiaries in need of medical isolation). Such spaces are intended to offer additional protection to vulnerable beneficiaries, so communication is essential to avoid any perception of discrimination. See also this entry on inclusivity, age, gender and diversity mainstreaming.

- Sanitation: If migrant centres are established in an existing building, rehabilitation works shall prioritise the enhancement of sanitary facilities in line with Sphere minimum standards. In particular, access to water and water storage are of paramount importance.

- Storage: A locked space should be used for storing extra furniture, hygiene kits, cleaning products and other supplies. Maintaining a stock of basic products enables the facility to face situations of emergency or a high influx of beneficiaries. See also this entry for further guidance on procurement and logistics matters.

- Personnel office: IOM staff and/or partners shall have a separate working spaces with the possibility to lock doors and cabinets to store sensitive documents and valuable items.

- Lighting and electricity: Lighting improves the usability of facilities at night and promotes protection by giving a sense of physical security. Lighting should be provided at key locations such as sanitation facilities, entrance/exit locations, main meeting points, dorms and infirmary. Depending on the location, a backup generator may be installed in case of power cuts.