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Communicating with Persons of Concern in the Syrian Refugee Response

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Although significant progress has been made in terms of communicating with communities affected by the crisis in Syria, key challenges are yet to be met. This was the conclusion of a regional workshop which took place in March in Amman and brought together over 60 participants from NGOs and UN agencies from across the region.

Participants shared communications successes from the regional response, including the establishment of a regional information-sharing platform and the development of model Standard Operations Procedures for ‘cdac’. Communications initiatives undertaken by the represented agencies have included bulk SMS, community mobilization and outreach engagement, the use of public address systems, collaborative radio projects, video screenings and leaflet and brochure production. In Za’atari camp, Jordan, SIM cards have been distributed through the verification process which has significantly enabled the establishment of a UNHCR managed hotline. In the same camp, participatory child-led programming by Awareness & Prevention Through Art (AptArt) has also promoted communication with children’s groups and the wider community.

However, the response has not been without its challenges. Participants at the workshop highlighted the need for better data both on refugee location, their media habits and their communications needs. With more than 80% of the registered refugees from the region living in a non-camp setting, innovative and inclusive communications are essential. It was highlighted that it is vital to include unregistered communities and those with specific needs. Key learning from the workshop discussions showed that agencies should not assume the ‘roll-out’ of messages amongst family or household groups so better targeting is required. Visually impaired people were specifically highlighted as a group currently being marginalized by the response activities.

In addition, with more than 150 agencies participating in Syria Regional Response, technological and resource challenges are coupled with coordination challenges. A recurring problem highlighted by the represented agencies was the significant need for better coordination. In Lebanon, for example, 13 hotlines have been established resulting not only in duplication of effort but significant confusion and frustration amongst affected communities.

Improving coordination was consistently raised as a key action point to address a number of challenges. The possible support of the CDAC Network was discussed amongst the participants; this included the idea of establishing country-level ‘cdac’ Working Groups in Jordan and Lebanon. There was some concern however that this may lead to additional confusion through the creation of additional groups and care would be needed to avoid this. In specific response to the challenge of multiple hotlines, it was proposed that countries could consider establishing one single toll-free hotline that directs calls depending on the information required or services in question.

The challenges raised by the need to deliver targeted services were also raised as a significant, particularly in terms of notifying beneficiaries of eligibility status, taking complaints and appeals from those excluded and the need to mitigate community hostility in response to the policies. It was concluded that, where possible, targeting criteria and assistance needs to be harmonized and that the earlier involvement of communications specialists in programme development would have been beneficial. Discussions also highlighted that long-term relationships with the media should be cultivated by the response and links to outreach to community, religious and government leaders could be stepped up in order to improve ‘cdac’ activities.