Including refugee voices in development programming

Siren mainstreams social inclusion considerations across its portfolio, ensuring refugee voices and leadership are included in programming. This World Refugee Day, we stand together with refugees in building safer, more just and free societies, where everyone has the chance to prosper.

In Lebanon and Jordan, both of which are dealing with the presence of large numbers of Syrian refugees on top of long-standing Palestinian displacement, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer than ever that we need to work collectively to realise that vision. Across our portfolio of work, we’ve supported and will continue to support our partners to make sure that refugees are not only not left behind, but can actively have a say in how we go about creating more responsive institutions and resilient societies that can lead us through the pandemic, into recovery and beyond.

In responding to this challenge in Jordan, we’ve looked particularly at cybercrime and online sexual and gender based violence – an issue that has grown in importance with the pandemic pushing us online for remote working and schooling. In Lebanon, which has dealt with an economic and financial crisis, the pandemic, and the Beirut port explosion, vulnerabilities have grown among refugees. Here, one of our focuses has been on setting up systems that guarantee refugee safety when registering for COVID-19 vaccines.

Refugee access to police and protection services

Through our work in Jordan, we’ve found that Syrian refugees generally enjoy high levels of social inclusion within their host communities. Our March 2020 survey of Amman residents showed that 78% of Syrians felt they and their families were accepted by the Jordanian community.

There are, nevertheless, disparities in the level of awareness of service provision available to refugees. According to our January 2021 survey of people living in Amman, Mafraq and Irbid governorates (forthcoming), Syrian refugees have slightly less knowledge than Jordanians about the services the national police force offers to deal with different types of crime (average 73% to 59% ). When it comes to cybercrime, 33% of respondents from both communities say they are concerned about it; yet, Syrians are 24% less likely to know about the the existence of a unit dedicated to tackling this form of crime. One in ten Syrians feel costs are a barrier to lodge a complaint with the Cybercrime Unit, despite it being free to open a file with the police.

These kinds of misunderstandings and gaps in knowledge can be bridged through multi-actor outreach toward refugee communities, and by the strengthening of inclusive information and coordination mechanisms for cybercrime protection concerns.

With around 90% of the population reporting in our January survey that they view the police as the most trustworthy source of local information and news, the Public Security Directorate is well placed to create campaigns that are sensitive to the dynamics around cybercrime and online SGBV in Jordan, helping to increase public knowledge of its different forms, de-stigmatise the issue and encourage reporting. Creating links between police, local youth groups and CBOs would also help reduce barriers to accessing help, since it is often necessary to work through intermediaries to reach the most vulnerable groups. These intermediaries could work closely with active members of different segments of the Syrian population to build social inclusion in this regard.

Syrian, Jordanian youth, police join forces to tackle cybercrime and domestic violence

The Public Security Directorate has already begun work on this issue, and with Siren’s support launched a new initiative in early 2021 to engage young people in north Amman on pressing safety and security issues.

In the first round of the “Conscious Youth” initiative, five Syrians and 10 Jordanians aged between 20 and 30 worked with police trainers to design campaigns to raise awareness in their communities about the different forms of cybercrime and domestic violence, and the response and referral mechanisms available to victims.

The trainers and their colleagues in specialised police departments also delivered sessions to the group on the role of the Community Police, communication skills, online safety and drug awareness.

“It was great, the police were like a second family to us. We worked together hand-in-hand, and will say working together,” said Rama Habous, 20, from Aleppo. “I was really interested in the sessions on cybercrime as they widened my understanding with new and important concepts.”

The 15 Conscious Youth volunteers are due to begin their campaigns on cybercrime and domestic violence in July.

Conscious Youth volunteer, Rama Habous, takes part in an environmental campaign with local police in Jordan, June 2020. (Siren Associates).

social inclusion in safety campaigns

Data protection key to social inclusion in vaccine campaigns

“None of us are safe until we all are.” So goes UN chief Antonio Guterres’ now well-worn saying about COVID-19. But despite advances in the availability of jabs against the virus, the saying still rings true, with vaccine inequality consistently making headlines worldwide.

In Lebanon, where an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees account for approximately 20% of the population, the importance of an inclusive national vaccine campaign cannot be overstated. Yet although the government has adopted a national vaccination plan that covers everyone residing in the country regardless of their nationality or residency status, there are still barriers to refugees’ full inclusion in the vaccine rollout.

With only 20% of Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population possessing the legal right to stay in the country, many refugees fear that their personal data could be leaked after registering for the vaccine, leading to their arrest, detention or deportation. To help address this barrier, Siren supported Central Inspection, one of Lebanon’s primary oversight bodies, to create a digital platform for vaccine registration that guarantees the safety and security of users’ data.

By building confidentiality into the design of the platform, IMPACT, Central Inspection became one of the first public bodies to issue a clear privacy policy and publicly-determined terms of use around where data is collected, its use, ownership, processing and retention. As a result, access to information through the platform and its data visualisation tools is limited across the public sector, thus protecting users’ data from unlawful and politicised access.

An Open Data website was also built to complement IMPACT, giving the public access to some of the non-sensitive information gathered, providing them with tools and evidence to observe, control and audit the vaccine campaign, as well as many other central and local government activities.

The use of such digital tools to enable a fair and transparent vaccination campaign is an important step to win back some trust in the public administration. But to create a vaccine campaign that advances social inclusion, measures to tackle the other barriers to refugee vaccination must be introduced alongside guarantees of data privacy and security. At the time of writing, only 30,749 Syrian refugees — around 2% of the total estimated Syrian refugee population — had registered for the vaccine.

Refugee vaccination numbers have clearly increased in the past weeks due to the “vaccine marathons” organised by the Health Ministry, which included volunteers to help with registration. Additional communication campaigns around the safety of the vaccine and IMPACT’s data security, and peer-to-peer awareness raising campaigns among the refugee population could help boost this further. To overcome mobility concerns, vaccination centres could also be opened in areas where large numbers of refugees reside, and greater support could be offered to people who do not have the formal documentation or literacy required to register online.

Screenshot of IMPACT’s online vaccine registration module. (Siren Associates)

Screenshot of IMPACT's online vaccine registration module