OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Refugee Info Bus - Multilingual Legal Information + Facebook Messaging Service

supporting refugees on the move, into, or through Europe, with up to date and accessible, multilingual legal info, phone charge and Wifi.

Photo of Sarah Story
75 47

Written by

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Imagine you have just arrived in a foreign continent after a long and dangerous journey. You are tired, traumatised and alone. You don’t speak the language and don’t know where to go in order to access vital information and support. You will soon face a life changing (but potentially) life threatening asylum interview, meanwhile you remain at risk of immigration detention, without knowing where or how to access a lawyer or legal support. This is the predicament so many of our service users find themselves in. We have already been providing phone charging and Wifi, as well as basic information to refugees in Northern France since 2016, starting our work in the Jungle “Refugee Camp,” expanding our service to Greece in March 2017. In both Greece and Northern France, people on the move are facing a far more hostile environment than in 2015/2016 - this includes more detention, more difficult asylum processes, less social support and an increase in deportation. We want to support people through these difficult days. In doing so, we have set up a video series and Facebook messaging service, led by refugees who have been granted leave to remain in various European countries. Partnering with various lawyers and associations we create interesting but informative legal info videos and written guides, in conjunction with a confidential facebook messaging support service, available in Arabic, Farsi, Tigrinya, Pashto and English, targeting refugees who have recently arrived in Europe. In Greece - we have been running a similar project. Over the past 18 months it has included 45 videos and has reached over 750k people, we have covered vital topics such as preparing for your interview upon reaching the Greek islands, what to do if you are detained, how to register for asylum and how you can apply for family reunion. Gratified by the success of this project, that we have built on limited funds, we plan to sustain, improve and expand it.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We are dedicated to supporting refugees on the move, or who have just arrived in Greece and Northern France. Online, we have a strong following of service users on Faecbook who request information from us in Farsi and Arabic, and a growing number of people messaging us in Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromo and Urdu, stretching from Germany, to Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, (Facebook doesn’t provide statistics from inside Iran and Syria).

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our mission is to build a bridge between refugees and asylum seekers who have recently arrived in, or who are on the move in Europe, and their right to legal protection (the basic requirement for a future of stability and promise in Europe). By working hand in hand with local lawyers, community and support groups, together we work so that displaced people on the move can access the rights and safety that can be too easy to take for granted.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Whilst humanitarian needs such as food and shelter continue to be of concern for many asylum seekers on the move in Europe, responsible information sharing, including counseling and the dissemination of information, is among individuals’ first priorities as they face months and even years in the painful limbo thrust upon them as a result of increasingly restrictive and prohibitive government policies towards refugees in Europe. Our info will be created with an audio-visual format that allows those who speak a number of different languages and possess varying levels of literacy to find out what they need to know to make an informed decision about their future. Currently info is provided in 6 languages. Refugees are able to then message us, in confidence and with dignity, in their own language, and speak to someone who has themselves gone through the process of claiming asylum, and ask questions about their rights and their options, without fear of cost or reprisal.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Currently, we are unable to provide as much information or support as we would like online, sometimes laws are implemented and we just do not have the capacity to respond. We regularly see people who have fallen victims to false info spread by fear, rumors or smugglers. This grant would ensure that our service is sustainable + scaled over 3rys. 3 team members with lived experience will be employed full-time as refugee info officers - enabling a stronger presence, more urgently needed info + support (verified by legal professionals), for refugees on the move in Greece and Northern France, and for said info to be communicated by people who speak their mother tongue and have a better understanding of what they are going through.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

“I met the Refugee Info Bus on Chios and I already had two rejections, I felt hopeless and alone. No NGOs or governments respected us. I knew nothing about the EU-Turkey Deal, or what to say in my interview, I was ready to give up hope as I had been stuck on the island for 4 months. I thought I would never leave my tent or the island. Then, I met the Info Bus team who told me not to give up. They helped me submit documents that helped me pass my admissibility interview. When I watched the information videos that they had created, I knew that I would have passed my interview straight away if I had been given that information before.” - Mohammed, from Damascus, who we supported in Chios in 2017. He has now resettled in Holland, his wife and kids have joined them, they have had a new baby and are opening a restaurant. His families resilience, and the hope and joy that his family are now able to experience, inspire us everyday. This should be the norm, not the exception.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Our work has focussed on people on the move in Northern France and Greece. This usually means families from Afghanistan and Syria in Greece, and young men from Kurdistan Iraq, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea in Northern France. Large portions of the population we are working with are either sleeping rough or in precarious living situations, many are in a state of flight or in waiting and many suffer serious mental heath problems - both from the conflict, danger and persecution they are fleeing and confounded by the trauma of uncertainty, oftentimes financial ruin, police violence, poor living conditions, as well as separation from family that they experience upon arrival in Europe. In Greece, there are a far greater number of families, with young children, largely from Syria and Afghanistan - the majority of which are registered for asylum in Greece, while many do plan to leave. They are usually housed in official camps or flats - which are becoming increasingly overcrowded.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Many of our team members have worked with us from when they were still stuck in camps in Greece and have since travelled elsewhere in Europe and been granted asylum in Europe. By working with their communities, they have been able to facilitate meaningful two-way communication, enabling us to understand the needs of our service users better. By always actively listening to what our service users wish to get of their chests - their hopes, their fears, their struggles, we have been able to relieve the stress of people on the move, whilst carrying out research on what we need to do in order to improve our work. By knowing what you are entitled to, and by having the tools to negotiate the ever-changing goalposts of the European asylum system, our service users are far more empowered and strengthened on their path to asylum in a country that will grant them their rights, stability. We believe that making legal processes understandable to everyone is a vital step towards a more just world

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

We already work in cooperation with a variety or organisations and solidarity groups in France. These stakeholders include L’Auberge Des Migrants, Safe Passage, Refugee Community Kitchen and the Refugee Youth Service. In Greece, we currently work in partnership with the IRC, Solidarity Now, Help Refugees, Khora, Koosh, the Greek Refugee Council and Refugee Support Aegean, the Afghan Community Association and the Kurdish Community Association of Athens. We look forward to strengthening these relationships in the coming years and are open to collaborating with many groups who share our values.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Refugee Info Bus

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

The Refugee Info Bus was founded in March 2016, by a group of friends who had been living and volunteering in the Calais “Jungle” migrant camp in Northern France (where people tried to reach the UK or claim asylum in France for several months). Within a year, we facilitated over 10,000 Wi-Fi logins and delivered more than 1,000 workshops to 3,000 individuals on the UK and French asylum systems as well as “know your rights” workshops, following and during evictions. In March 2017, we expanded our operations to Greece. By providing legal information, we support refugees navigate the complex and ever-changing asylum process at what is one of Europe’s major points of entry. Operating in camps across the mainland and islands, we conduct this work using handouts, and audio and video materials. Our team of legal case-workers and online mediators are refugees themselves and have personal experience of entering, and traveling through Europe, as an undocumented asylum seeker.

Website URL:

https://www.refugeeinfobus.com/

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

We are a UK registered Charity, however we do not have any offices there. We operate out of Calais, Northern France, and Athens, Greece.

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Our PO Box address is registered in the Scottish City of Edinburgh

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. We would love tips on balancing the risk of political or legal repression (in light of the series of arrests and charges made against humanitarians in Europe) - whilst ensuring our information doesn’t become in line with exactly what a particular government desires. 2. What measures can we take to make our online service more secure, when being accessed in countries with repressive regimes? 3. How should we professionalise, expand and susustain a service, but without losing our mobility, ability to react quickly, passion and activist spirit that comes with smaller grassroots projects?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

Mentor:  Mahmoud & us have many mutual friends & contacts - an excellent fit for mentor.  He emphasized how important it is to focus work on Greek Islands, which are at breaking point.  He has expertise in programming + data security & strongly recommended need for option to message on signal (super necessary when people are messaging from regimes with intrusive surveillance such as Iran & Syria) - we will implement these recommendations! 

Community:  Ran 6 focus groups & feedback sessions in Athens + UK+ northern France, + active member of re:viewed, an online community feedback mechanism - https://www.re-viewed.org.  Videos v. useful + effective, website needs more content & to be more user-friendly/easier to navigate, needs to have more people working on content creation + more regular updates (capacity issue).  Male bias in use of Tigrinya language was noted, arabic language videos were very clear & considerate of multiple dialects.  More info on Balkan route needed. Suggested use of Facebook live streaming with lawyers + specialists in education + refugee rights.  Facebook should be updated with the same frequency as Al Jazeera + DW. While our info is good, we really need to scale it, so many people do not have access to necessary support & info - increasing urgency of need due to new changes following recent Greek elections, & Turkish invasion of Northern Syria.

Expert: Itika, provided very valuable feedback on website, which we are incorporating - using color coding, audio inserts of each title (super innovative), & simplifying the content.   She also highlighted necessity to standardize processes by building training & toolkits - we have implemented this into business plan for the next 1- 3 years, also we are standardizing our work process into 3-month cycles - to protect against burn-out.

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

As a young organization born out of the ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015- 2016, our income comes from donations from supporters, as well as a few small trusts and foundations.  While each year, our support increases, we don’t yet have the funding to scale up our project at the needed pace. 

Often larger EU funding comes tied with the implementation of emergency humanitarian response of the EU’s policies of deterrence and containment in overcrowded, unsanitary camps on the Greek islands.

What is so unique about OpenIdeo is that it provides such a large seed of funding, for us to creatively expand our project, that acts on the needs and wishes of people with whom we have worked with over the past 3 years, (as opposed responding to restrictive funding criteria for a project that a particular funding body wants to implement).

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

Our annual income is roughly $80-100k and is made up of donations from small grant-making organizations, crowdfunding or individual one-off events.  3 years on from our grassroots beginning, a grant from BridgeBuilder would enable us to hire 3 full-time refugee legal information officers, over a 2yr period.  Currently, we pay our close-knit team with stipends, or they are paid on a project by project basis.  We have seen over the past 3 yrs, with many organizations, how refugee volunteers often get too much put on their shoulders, without fair reimbursement, which is exploitative but can also lead to extreme emotional burn-out.   By being able to employ our dedicated team members on a full-time basis, they will have the financial security, and with it the energy and commitment to expand and steer the project fully, with a longer-term vision in mind.  This will be instrumental as we start the urgently needed expansion and scaling up of our project.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

To reach the 2022 impact goal: 

1st Quarter (Q1): Recruitment, Training, Skillsharing, legal workshops and prep work.

Q2:  Info Officers will work in 3-month cycles 1/3rd fieldwork of 2/3rd desk work (remote working model).   Fieldwork on Lesbos, Chios & Samos, & then Calais and Dunkirk.   Assess and address Wifi + charge needs in locations we visit.   Desk work: answering questions online, info sheets and video creation + online distribution.

Break

Q3:  Based on reflections of Q2 - repeat pattern - adjusting the duration of time and locations of fieldwork according to need and capacity.   

Break

Q4: standardization of 3-month process of face to face workshops, interviews, and fieldwork followed by online desk-based info sharing, will allow for smooth scalability. 

Feedback of info officers will direct other info bus team in fundraising and recruitment to enable said scaling.  

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

Impact: By the end of 2022 we aim to reach 45k refugees with one-to-one legal info support online and on our bus - including interview prep, assistance with family reunion process and any other questions or queries people on the move in Europe may have.   We hope to reach a minimum of 1.75 mill views of our online videos and posts.

Measurement:  We will measure the views of our videos, the demographics and rough locations of people who like, share and comment on our legal information series.  We will also track and keep record of service users with whom we engage with and provide meaningful advice, information and follow up on their progress.

Question:  How do we make sure our model is adaptable in line with what is likely to be changing policy and movement of people in Europe?  How do we adjust our model to maintain quality, sustainability to align with the need for our service, beyond 2022.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

The project will be run by a close-knit team of three full-time refugee information officers (team leads) all will have had experience, or be provided with the appropriate training in videography, social media, journalism, and safeguarding.   We intend to hire some of our current team members for the positions.  One team lead will be Farsi and Dari speaking (supporting service users fleeing Iran and Afghanistan), another, Arabic speaking (supporting service users feeling Syria, Yemen and Iraq), while our other team leader is likely to be Oromo and Amharic speaking (supporting many of our service users from Ethiopia).  All this will be done in collaboration with our network of partner lawyers, who will fact check our info.  We intend to scale capacity to employ full time sorani + full time tigrinya speaking info officer as project develops.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

MENTOR: encouraged us to implement more mechanisms for secure communication, introducing the importance of working in pairs when answering questions, he reiterated the urgency for this project being rolled out on the Greek islands.

USERS: Most common themes include that the work is incredibly informative, accessible and helpful - legal info explained “as a friend, from their heart, to support us, not to lecture us,” we were told we ought to target people before they travel to Europe, and there needs to be more info videos and content, shared more regularly, throughout the day, like a news site.  

EXPERT: challenged a slight negative bias in our language, against European host communities.  While this is easy to fall into when we see the challenges of people trying to reach safety in Europe, our work with lawyers, community centers and volunteers is a beautiful example of hope, and bridge building, that we mustn't lose sight of. 

75 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Sevde Şengün
Team

Hello again Sarah Story ,

You shared info about service users and detailed 3 years goals and plans, plus you mentioned your annual income and where the funding from the challenge would go in future, thats all great but Im here for asking one more info;
Could you outline, in an estimate, the budget for each of the items and potentially the total budget for activities?

View all comments