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Services Advisor

Closing Dadaab: How the Muslim Ban is affecting Somalis

A travel ban implemented on January 29th, 2017, by executive order, has effectively prohibited citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. on any visa for 90 days; in addition, new refugee applications have been suspended for 120 days.

For Somalis and other asylum seekers, the reality of being barred from the U.S. is harrowing. Within the Horn of Africa there are an approximate 892,794 registered Somali refugees, with 37% seeking refuge in Kenya according to data by the UNHCR.

Of those seeking refuge in Kenya, many have made Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp their home. With a population larger than the City of Burnaby, Dadaab is set to close in May. Data from the UNHCR indicated that the 261,496 residents of Dadaab must be resettled since the camp has become rife with violence, disease, and has become a recruiting ground for Al-Shabab, an Islamist militia group.

Resettling those who live in Dadaab is an arduous process that has just become more difficult with the executive order put in place by the U.S. For refugees who have now lost the option to relocate to America, returning to Somalia means going back to a country that has been in civil war since 1991, as well as confronting an anticipated drought crisis, potential famine, and Al-Shabab attacks.

According to an article by the Guardian, “up to 26,000 [Somalis] who hoped to travel to the U.S. have been hit by the new [executive order]. The total includes those cleared for imminent travel, as well as those whose applications are under review.”

“[Refugees], who have all been rigorously screened by US and UN officials, have waited for between seven and 10 years for their resettlement to be approved and organised.
Some had already checked in for the flight to their new homes in the US when they were told they would not be allowed to board the plane. Others had travelled to Nairobi with children ready to leave. “These are people who have packed their bags, emptied their bank accounts, sold all their goods and said their goodbyes. Then they hear they are not going to the US after all,” said one aid worker in Nairobi.”  see more

While the fate of asylum seekers is very uncertain, PeaceGeeks stands committed to developing technology for peace, and is currently working with partners in order to facilitate refugees’ access to services with our Services Advisor App.

Feb 8, 2017
Category: Issue Briefs

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

Imagine Being Displaced: How the Services Advisor App Helps Refugees

For all the hand-wringing and consternation about the exodus of refugees out of Syria flooding into Europe, it can sometimes be forgotten that the European Union has shouldered only a fraction of the flood of people forced from their homes by the constant rain of rockets and barrel bombs. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are bowing under the sheer numbers of displaced people from across their borders. They are filling parched Jordan, in the grips of a water crisis, and tiny Lebanon, where Syrians now make up a quarter of the population. This is to say nothing of the over 6 million Syrians internally displaced within their own country. The sheer numbers are staggering, and make every day a struggle for Syria’s neighbours to provide needed services to the millions that they host.

Imagine being sick. Imagine needing medicine or toiletries. Maybe what you might need is being offered somewhere, but how would you find it? How could you make sure you had it when you needed it? Some services might be like needles in haystacks, buried beneath the flood of desperate people. There are over 63 service providers in Jordan all over the country that are constantly changing.

Imagine that. Imagine trying to find the necessities of life while their location is unknown or worse—moving. Imagine a service provider not being able to help and the location of another service provider unknown. How would you find out where to go now? Would knowledge spread by word of mouth? Would information become as priceless as the food or medicine that it might lead too?

This is why the PeaceGeeks Services Advisor app is so important. This app instantly connects refugees in camps with the location of services near them and allows those providing the services to gather a better understanding of what is needed. The ability to harness the ubiquity of smartphones in refugee populations to quickly and accurately disseminate information to them about essential services could  the difference between life and death.

In order for the Middle East to avoid further catastrophe, the stability of countries such as Jordan is paramount. A simple app like the Services Advisor can help. By giving refugees the most important tool of all—information—it can help vulnerable people access the services needed and avoid roiling discontent and desperation. This is the power of technology. For those living at the margins, something like an smartphone and a proper app can make all the difference. A difference that could be made from Jordan to Somalia, from Iraq to Turkey to Greece. Anywhere people have been displaced and need the essentials.

Aug 13, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

10 hours left to #GiveItUp4Peace!

Six weeks ago, we launched our inaugural #GiveItUp4Peace campaign. Thanks to our incredible community, we have raised over $38,000. We now have less than 8 hours to go to reach $40,000! If you have not donated yet, remember that your donation will be matched till midnight tonight and is eligible for a charitable tax receipt!

Don’t miss this last chance to help make this our most successful campaign yet! 

Today, more than 60 million people are displaced by conflict and disaster, the largest number since World War II. Syria’s Civil War alone has claimed an estimated 240,000 lives and displaced 11.5 million people from their homes. Burundi's conflict has displaced another 230,000. As Canadians, we are increasingly engaging in these important international issues, as we prepare to welcome 25,000 Syrians to new homes and communities in our country in the coming months. 


This past year, we have worked to help civil society organizations in South Sudan, including our partner, Community Empowerment for Progress Organizations, to successfully lobby the United Nations and international donors to pressure the government of South Sudan to return to peace talks and begin the process of restoring stability in the world's newest country. 

We have begun working with Libyan organizations, like our partner Libyan Youth Movement, to amplify the voice of youth as the country begins the slow and hopeful transition towards a peaceful, accountable and prosperous future.

We have supported the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan in helping refugees get better access to information on services available to them through our Services Advisor app, and we are now in talks with UNHCR in Iraq, Turkey and Greece about installing Services Advisor in those locations. We are also designing new app features to help refugees provide feedback on how the UN can better support their needs. 

In the coming year, PeaceGeeks will continue to support those affected by conflict in three main ways 

  1. Continuing to help those displaced by conflict to get access to the services provided by humanitarian organizations operating in host communities.
  2. Exploring how technology can play a role in helping refugees to resettle into their new homes and communities here in Canada.
  3. By contining our work with grassroots peacebuilders and civil society leaders to strengthen peace, accountability and human rights, we will work toward preventing conflict and displacement from occurring in the first place. 

Many challenges remain. In Burundi, our partner Fontaine-Isoko, as well as other civil society leaders, journalists and opposition parties are being violently targeted for attempting to hold the President accountable for violating the country's constitutional two-term limit. As I write, there is a very real risk that Burundi is sliding back towards civil war 9 years after the signing of the peace agreement.

It is in times like these, more than ever, that we must not only support civil society leaders working at home to affect change, but also find our voice to ensure that our country and the institutions that represent us in the world do more to prevent conflicts from escalating into armed violence. We must be courageous so that our partners can continue to do their work. And we need to act as global citizens to address the complex challenges that lie ahead. 

Thank you again for making it possible for PeaceGeeks to support our community of changemakers and peacebuilders in 2016!

Dec 14, 2015
Category:

November: PeaceTalks, Fundraiser, #RHoK4Peace & Media Love for Services Advisor

November was a busy and productive month for PeaceGeeks! We kicked off our #GiveItUp4Peace crowdfunding campaign on November 1 and we've had an incredible response - over $30,000 raised so far with one more week to go!

On November 4, we hosted our 29th PeaceTalk at Hootsuite's offices. Refugee Crisis & Media Hype: Has Anything Changed? Are We Doing Enough featured speakers from Immigrant Services Society of BC, Simon Fraser University and immigration law as well as Majd Agha, one of the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Vancouver. The well-attended event covered topics from the stereotyping of refugees to specific suggestions for how Vancouverites can get involved in supporting arriving refugees. We look forward to hosting more PeaceTalks in the new year!

November 19 saw the PeaceGeeks crew out at the Portside Pub for our midcampaign fundraiser. Featuring live entertainement from The Werewolves, a stacked silent auction with contributions from the Vancouver Whitecaps, HootSuite, Ethical Bean, Lush and more, and lots of beer from Dageraad Brewing, it was a great event for a great cause. Mohammed Alsaleh, a Syrian refugee who came to Canada from Lebanon, spoke about his struggle to come to Canada and the difficulty of building a new life here. PeaceGeeks was honoured to have him as a speaker as well as donor to our raffle - one lucky attendee won a coffee date with Mohammed. We're sure he has more inspiring stories to share. For those who missed out, our friends at Umbrella Pro documented the action - you can watch their video of the event on our YouTube channel.

On November 28 and 29, dozens of local technology, communications and marketing professionals came together to donate their time to projects benefitting changemakers and peacebuilders around the world. Featuring projects from Libya, Jordan, Kenya, South Sudan and right here in Vancouver, our #RHoK4Peace hackathon was an unqualified success! With sponsor Axiom Zen, and support from OpenDataBC, the HiVE and Affinity Bridge, PeaceGeeks provided an opportunity for Vancouverites to put their skills and expertise to use for the benefit of grassroots organizations across the globe.

Our hard work hasn't gone unnoticed. CBC Vancouver published a piece on Services Advisor and our executive director, Renee Black, was interviewed about the app by Rick Cluff on CBC's Early Edition. Global News also covered the #RHoK4Peace hackathon - you can see their coverage here. We're excited for the opportunity to able to share our message! We've also recently been featured on CKNW and Vancouver's Co-op Radio.

Now it's December and we're into our final week of the #GiveItUp4Peace crowdfunding campaign. We've raised over $30,000 and our goal is $50,000. Thanks to a generous match donation from the Black Family Foundation, every dollar donated doubles its impact! And every dollar will be put toward PeaceGeeks projects. To date, weve helped more than 26 grassroots peacebuilders in 14 countries around the world. We plan to continue that work in 2016 and beyond. For more information on the campaign and how your contributions can make a difference, visit giveitup4peace.org.

Dec 6, 2015
Category:

#RHoK4Peace Rallies Vancouver's Tech Talent to Tackle Global Issues

On November 28 and 29, dozens of local technology, communications and marketing professionals came together to donate their time to projects benefitting changemakers and peacebuilders around the world. Featuring projects from Libya, Jordan, Kenya, South Sudan and right here in Vancouver, our #RHoK4Peace hackathon was an unqualified success!

With sponsor Axiom Zen, and support from OpenDataBC, the HiVE and Affinity Bridge, PeaceGeeks provided an opportunity for Vancouverites to put their skills and expertise to use for the benefit of grassroots organizations across the globe.

Some of the weekend’s efforts built on previous projects with PeaceGeeks partners:

  • Increasing the effectiveness of an SMS-based system for reporting incidents of gender based violence in South Sudan. The app is currently being used by Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO). The #RHoK4Peace team developed new ways of visualizing the data collected and proposed next steps for the organization to take in leveraging the data they receive.
  • Logo design and development of a new website for the Libyan Youth Movement, a youth-led and youth-focused social media and online-based initiative promoting the views and perspectives of Libyan youth to the global community.
  • Developing a secure system for documenting human rights violations to further the goals of National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya (NCHRD-K). The team focused on the group’s need for a digitally secure tool that will enable it to produce reports based on data collected and the ability to rapidly access records to support prosecution efforts.
  • Expanding the capabilities of Services Advisor, an app that helps connect refugees in Jordan with humanitarian services in their area. #RHoK4Peace team members worked to upgrade Service Advisor’s capabilities, with the goal of enabling refugees to provide feedback on the services they receive. Services Advisor was developed by PeaceGeeks in partnership with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Jordan; PeaceGeeks is now in discussion with organizations in Greece to implement the app’s use in that country as well.

The weekend also saw the launch of two new PeaceGeeks projects. An effort to combat the online messaging and recruiting efforts of the Islamic State (more properly referred to as Daesh) was launched. The team worked on identifying digital presences in the Middle East and North Africa that are producing effective, anti-Daesh messaging via analysis of Twitter hashtags and handles. With an aim of challenging Daesh’s targeting of youth, this project will strengthen the technological capacities of digitally active youth, civil society leaders and other advocates around the world who are best positioned to provide a legitimate response to the threat of Daesh.

The most local project of the weekend was Tea Time, an app developed based on feedback from recent refugees. Many know Vancouver as a ‘lonely or unfriendly city; the struggle to connect is even greater for recently arrived refugees, many of whom face language and culture barriers. Tea Time aims to tackle this issue by providing a platform where new arrivals and Vancouver locals can come together and interact in an easy, friendly way. The app is being developed for iOS, Android and the web, allowing access via smartphone and desktop. The web application is to ensure that newcomers, who may only have internet access via a public computer, can still engage on the platform. The app will be available in multiple languages in order to be accessible to a wide range of new arrivals.

The hackaton got some well-deserved media attention as well. We were featured on Global News, CBC's Early Edition and CKNW!

The #RHoK4Peace was produced in association with Random Hacks of Kindness with sponsorship from Granville Island Brewing and Fresh Bowl.

PeaceGeeks is very proud of the results of this weekend’s hackathon and plans to host several more in 2016. As a volunteer-based organization, we rely on sponsorship and donations to help fund our work. We’re currently in the midst of our #GiveItUp4Peace campaign, an effort to stand in solidarity with refugees who give up everything in the hopes of a better life. From now through December 13, donations to the campaign will be matched by The Black Family Foundation - meaning every dollar goes twice as far. Donations can be made on our campaign site, giveitup4peace.org. Your contributions help us develop tools like Services Advisor, host community events like the #RHoK4Peace hackathon and continue to support the work of grassroots peacebuilders and changemakers around the world!
 

Dec 1, 2015
Category:

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
Category:
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