We expect those who govern to do so in the interests of the governed. From an international institutional perspective on governance, derived from major international donor frameworks (IMF, WB, EU), good governance refers to efficiency in the provision of services and economic competitiveness. Increasingly, good governance has also come to mean accountability in the provision of services and in the generation and distribution of the collective good. Although even then, there are concerns regarding the impact on the extreme poor, cultural relativity and path dependency, as aggregate measurements of success are used, top-down exogenous values and primarily Western standards are imposed and political rights are prioritised over other, perhaps more immediate, entitlement rights. This article returns to a fundamental conceptualisation of governance, arguing that the ‘right’ approach to public administration is that which provides for the basic human needs of all to the greatest extent, but in particular, provides for those of the most vulnerable sections of society. Poverty is one of the greatest challenges to human security and basic human needs, in particular, as addressed in this article, when it is linked to insecurity due to the impact and legacy of conflict. Thus, the article examines conceptual and policy problems related to the provision of ‘safe havens’ for the vulnerable, regardless of their citizenship status. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.