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The PeaceGeeks Services Advisor App - What It Means For Somali Refugees

The sudden displacement of over 300,000 people over a very short period of time is difficult to fathom, yet it is set to happen soon with the recent announcement by Kenya’s government that they will close the Dadaab refugee camp in North Central Kenya—the most populous refugee camp in the world. The camp is set to close by November 2016, displacing hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Somalis, back to their country of origin. To put the sheer size of the camp in perspective, it is just over half the population of Vancouver, and has enough people within its confines to be Kenya’s third largest city.

 

Kenya is citing security concerns as the reason for the camp’s closure, with claims that attacks on its soil have been planned there by the militant al Qaeda-allied group Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab’s plans to eradicate the Somali government to make way for a country under the control of Sharia law continue to destabilize peace in the region.

 

Originally set up as a temporary transit camp for those fleeing the horrors of civil war in Somalia, continuous conflict and violence in Somalia has forced the camp to remain in place for over 20 years. Many who live in the camp were born there, and have never set foot in their home country.

 

Somalia remains politically unstable to this day, and just last month Al Shabaab launched terror attacks in the nation’s capital of Mogadishu, targeting the peacekeeping efforts of the UN-backed African Union Mission. Nevertheless, at this moment some Somali refugees have already begun a voluntary repatriation process by returning home. Yet many are raising concerns about the possibility of involuntary repatriation in the months to come following the dissolution of the camp.

 

To add to the massive influx of Somali refugees coming from Kenya, there are 1.1 million internally displaced Somalis, which means that the implementation of urgent solutions addressing the needs of thousands of displaced people is essential, and meaningful resettlement projects are desperately needed. Resettlement efforts will need to address the complications associated with communicating important information about available services to such a large population of people at one time.

 

Since 2014, PeaceGeeks has been developing the Services Advisor app to help address the way refugees can access services. Initially employed in Jordan, the PeaceGeeks Services Advisor App works to improve the quality of life for displaced people in times of crisis by improving access to information on essential services, which includes everything from water and sanitation, to services for those who have experienced domestic abuse. Currently, services directory information is shared via traditional paper-based methods. PeaceGeeks has recently begun working with UNHCR Somalia to deploy Services Advisor to support the needs of Somali returnees as the closure moves forward.

 

The Services Advisor app increases the efficiency of sharing information by replacing current and largely defunct systems of manual record keeping, which are woefully inadequate when it comes to addressing the urgent needs of large populations in flux. The idea is to replace the old system with one that can be accessed by a wide variety of stakeholders simultaneously for improving services access and the coordination of services provision. This includes service providers, UNHCR, refugees and donors alike by putting all information online. By implementing Services Advisor before the mass resettlement process begins, UNHCR aims to make the process of resettlement a more dignified experience for returnees by helping them to get a better grasp of what services are available and where.

 

This will be all the more important to refugees who have been absent from the country for over 20 years, and to returnees who have never actually been to Somalia to help them make informed decisions about their return.

 

In order to create meaningful resettlement projects, web applications like this have the ability to improve communications infrastructure and streamline the process of how aid is distributed in times of crisis. PeaceGeeks is currently in conversation with UNHCR representatives in Iraq, Lebanon,Turkey and Greece about deploying the app in those countries as well, and is also considering the viability of deploying the app across all UNHCR initiatives.

 

 

Aug 28, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

Services Advisor Continues Helping Refugees in Jordan

We’ve seen them on our TV screens and the covers of newspapers. They’ve been called migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, displaced people. Their situation has been described as desperate, a crisis, a diaspora the likes of which has not been seen since World War II.

As of June 2015, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reported that over 61 million people worldwide were displaced due to conflict, discrimination and disaster - the highest the largest single year over year increase ever. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It supports host countries through refugee intake and the coordination of relief services.

For the 20 million refugees who cross into host countries, finding information on the specific support they need to get settled can be a significant challenge. In some cases, the issue is not lack of services but lack of awareness about where to find information on available services. In addition, while many refugees are aware of the existence of essential services such as food, cash assistance and shelter, many remain unaware of other services such a legal advice, support for survivors of domestic violence and psychosocial support. In a study conducted by UN Women in Jordan, 83% of women and girls surveyed had no knowledge of any services in support of victims of gender-based violence.

For example, Jordan hosts more than 650,000 refugees, mostly Syrians fleeing civil war. More than 60 organizations have provided services in hundreds of locations across Jordan, yet until recently, there was no single accessible tool where refugees and service providers could search on up-to-date information about these services.

To address this issue, PeaceGeeks and the UNHCR launched Services Advisor in the fall of 2014. Designed to connect refugees to information on the services they most need, this application enables users to search a map and directory of humanitarian services based on key filters such as service category, organization, proximity and GPS coordinates.

In April 2015, PeaceGeeks and UNHCR Jordan hosted a workshop with Syrian refugees in Jordan to collect feedback on the current prototype, assess the value of this tool to refugees and UNHCR Jordan, and solicit input on how to improve the app. While we learned that there is indeed a strong and persistent need for a tool like Services Advisor, the workshop also revealed several key areas for improvement. These include performance, user experience and analytics, which have been built into the Services Advisor 1.0 application version, which launched in September 2015.

Its impact is getting noticed. In the video, Skynews Arabia speaks with a representative of the UNHCR in Jordan. They discuss the UNHCR’s efforts to open communications with refugees and help them find the services they need when they first arrive in unfamiliar surroundings.

PeaceGeeks is committed to including refugee voices towards improving the Services Advisor Application. We look forward  to continuing to expand the capabilities of Services Advisor in partnership with UNHCR Jordan, in order to better serve the refugees who rely on humanitarian services to launch new lives free from of conflict.

Oct 14, 2015
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