Syrian Refugees in the Middle East and North Africa: Building Capacity for Protection of LGBTI Persons of Concern–Jordan

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This chapter is relevant for humanitarian practitioners because it provides specific guidance on how to build capacity for office staff in order to better meet the needs of diverse SOGIESC refugees.

UNHCR Jordan began an initiative to build the capacity of its five offices to protect and assist LGBTI Syrian refugees, asylum seekers and other persons of concern. 90% of the more than 700,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Jordan are Syrians who were forced to flee as a result of armed conflict. Jordan is also host to more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees protected by UNRWA. 

This report provides an overview of the legal and social context of Jordan and the history of UNHCR Jordan’s interactions with LGBTI refugee and asylum seekers dating back to the beginning of the Iraq crisis. UNHCR Jordan collaborated with ORAM to organise a workshop on LGBTI issues in November 2013 to map needs and develop a strategy to strengthen LGBTI protection. The strategy incorporated lessons UNHCR Jordan had learned in the more than a decade of working with LGBTI refugee and asylum seekers and feedback from LGBTI refugee and asylum seekers on the risks in their countries of origin and in Jordan, and on their specific protection needs.

National LGBTI advocates and community members attended the workshop. The resulting strategy is based on two pillars: 1) training design to strengthen LGBTI awareness among UNHCR staff and partners; and 2) improve protection responses to LGBTI persons of concern. It does not aim to establish LGBTI protection as a stand-alone intervention but to mainstream LGBTI protection.

An internal network of 70 LGBTI-sensitised UNHCR staff was created. Safe spaces are signalled through the displaying of rainbow flags, colours and through the wearing of badges/pins that say ‘you are safe here’ in Arabic and English. 20 half-day training sessions were also created and deployed with more than 435 humanitarian staff from 24 organisations. The chapter emphasises the importance of including LGBTI persons in all parts of this initiative, and the centrality of listening to and incorporating feedback from persons who have undergone UNHCR interviewing in their capacities as LGBTI persons of concern. As a result of this initiative, LGBTI awareness and sensitivity has increased in UNHCR Jordan, across partner organisations and advocates.

The key lessons learned are to ensure facilitators are prepared to address anti-LGBTI sentiments in trainings. The chapter recommends using a service delivery lens rather than a cultural debate. The humanitarian principle of  impartiality is key in this lens. Presenting case studies of instances of abuse of power and violence against LGBTI persons by individuals in power was an important part of the discussion of power and authority.

The chapter concludes with several recommendations to scale up the project and/or expand to other areas. These recommendations include: consultations with LGBTI persons; avoid distribution of printed materials on LGBTI inclusion/issues in contexts where possession of LGBTI materials is a risk factor; and taking specific steps to ensure the diversity of LGBTI persons are considered (i.e. trans women do not have the same needs as cisgendered gay men etc).

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"The LGBTI population is not a homogenous group. Within this population, transgender persons often face heightened protection risks, including sexual assault, harassment and other forms of transphobic violence. Specific measures may also be needed to increase lesbian women’s access to protection and assistance."

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UNHCR Jordan began an initiative to build the capacity of its five offices to protect and assist LGBTI Syrian refugees, asylum seekers and other persons of concern. 90% of the more than 700,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Jordan are Syrians who were forced to flee as a result of armed conflict. Jordan is also host to more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees protected by UNRWA. 

This report provides an overview of the legal and social context of Jordan and the history of UNHCR Jordan’s interactions with LGBTI refugee and asylum seekers dating back to the beginning of the Iraq crisis. UNHCR Jordan collaborated with ORAM to organise a workshop on LGBTI issues in November 2013 to map needs and develop a strategy to strengthen LGBTI protection. The strategy incorporated lessons UNHCR Jordan had learned in the more than a decade of working with LGBTI refugee and asylum seekers and feedback from LGBTI refugee and asylum seekers on the risks in their countries of origin and in Jordan, and on their specific protection needs.

National LGBTI advocates and community members attended the workshop. The resulting strategy is based on two pillars: 1) training design to strengthen LGBTI awareness among UNHCR staff and partners; and 2) improve protection responses to LGBTI persons of concern. It does not aim to establish LGBTI protection as a stand-alone intervention but to mainstream LGBTI protection.

An internal network of 70 LGBTI-sensitised UNHCR staff was created. Safe spaces are signalled through the displaying of rainbow flags, colours and through the wearing of badges/pins that say ‘you are safe here’ in Arabic and English. 20 half-day training sessions were also created and deployed with more than 435 humanitarian staff from 24 organisations. The chapter emphasises the importance of including LGBTI persons in all parts of this initiative, and the centrality of listening to and incorporating feedback from persons who have undergone UNHCR interviewing in their capacities as LGBTI persons of concern. As a result of this initiative, LGBTI awareness and sensitivity has increased in UNHCR Jordan, across partner organisations and advocates.

The key lessons learned are to ensure facilitators are prepared to address anti-LGBTI sentiments in trainings. The chapter recommends using a service delivery lens rather than a cultural debate. The humanitarian principle of  impartiality is key in this lens. Presenting case studies of instances of abuse of power and violence against LGBTI persons by individuals in power was an important part of the discussion of power and authority.

The chapter concludes with several recommendations to scale up the project and/or expand to other areas. These recommendations include: consultations with LGBTI persons; avoid distribution of printed materials on LGBTI inclusion/issues in contexts where possession of LGBTI materials is a risk factor; and taking specific steps to ensure the diversity of LGBTI persons are considered (i.e. trans women do not have the same needs as cisgendered gay men etc).