UN launching new app for Syrian refugees developed in Vancouver

87597f5b8e86c1f11ef6c2f3ab7c0b2b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Jenni Sheppard Oct 05, 2016 11:10 am

A unique app developed in Vancouver, designed to help refugees arriving in a new country, is being launched globally by the UN’s refugee agency on October 11.

The Services Advisor app was built by PeaceGeeks, an international volunteer organization based in Gastown, working with refugees and refugee service providers.

It provides a complete, up-to-date directory of essential humanitarian services being offered to refugees, to help people find food, medicine, shelter, and work.

Renee Black, Executive Director of PeaceGeeks, told Daily Hive the app aims to address one of the biggest challenges facing refugees – getting access to critical services.

“Imagine you have been forced to leave your home because of war,” said Black. “You’ve lost your house, you’ve lost any income security, you’ve lost your access to health care, you’ve lost education, and you’re showing up in a new country where legally you’re not allowed to work.”

“It’s a matter of having the most up-to-date information so you can have something resembling a normal life.”

Syrian refugees walk the final metres across the desert toward the berm that marks the official Al-Ruwayshid Jordanian/Syrian border crossing. (UNHCR /J. Kohler)

Syrian refugees walk the final metres across the desert toward the berm that marks the official Al-Ruwayshid Jordanian/Syrian border crossing. (UNHCR /J. Kohler)

Black said organizations providing services to refugees have previously kept their own lists, which quickly go out of date. Having a managed directory will help immensely.

One of those volunteers who worked with PeaceGeeks to create to Services Advisor is Mohammed Alsaleh, who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria.

In Syria, he was imprisoned and tortured for speaking out against the government. While he ended up in Vancouver, his family are now spread across Turkey and Germany.

“Everyday… I worry for them. I worry that my family can’t find the help they need, due to barriers like language,” says Alsaleh in a PeaceGeeks video. “Services Advisor would be a gift to every refugee.”

Now a PeaceGeeks volunteer, Alsaleh will be giving his input on the user experience of the app.

Mohammed Alsaleh, who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria, in Vancouver (PeaceGeeks)

Mohammed Alsaleh, who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria, in Vancouver (PeaceGeeks)

‘We are in a crisis’

The Services Advisor app is initially being launched with the UNHCR for Syrian refugees who arrive in Jordan, but there are plans to expand as soon as possible.

Black says they will soon deploy the app in Turkey and Somalia, and get it translated into Somalian, Kurdish, Turkish, and Farsi.

Somalia is preparing to receive more than 300,000 refugees from Kenya, where the world’s biggest refugee camp, Dadaab, is being closed down.

Hundreds of thousands of people live in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, the biggest such camp in the world (hikrcn/Shutterstock)

Hundreds of thousands of people live in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, the biggest such camp in the world (hikrcn/Shutterstock)

Although a date for the closure has not been set, the camp is home to 338,000 people from 13 countries, most of whom are Somalis – and they will eventually have to leave.

Black said the app will be crucial in helping those people sent to Somalia, who will be placed in communities, rather than camps, which can make finding services harder.

“People who have lived in Kenya all of their lives are now being sent back to Somalia,” said Black. “They’ve never lived in Somalia, they don’t know where anything is.”

Meanwhile, says Black, Turkey supports 2.7 million refugees, more than any other country in the world, and the world is facing a crisis.

A delegation of diplomats visits the Jordan/Syrian Hadalat border crossing on February 3, 2014. (UNHCR/Jared Kohler)

A delegation of diplomats visits the Jordan/Syrian Hadalat border crossing. (UNHCR/Jared Kohler)

“We are in a crisis situation. There are now 65 million people who are displaced in the world right now, the highest since World War Two.

“It’s great to see UNHCR embracing innovation to address this crisis… There’s a crucial need to do a lot more with a lot less.”

PeaceGeeks uses technology to promote peace, human rights and accountability with a focus in the Middle East and East Africa.

The organization’s #GiveItUp4Peace crowdfunding campaign is asking people to give up something they can’t live without, in solidarity with those who have to give up everything.

The funds raised will help PeaceGeeks support the deployment of Services Advisor to Somalia and Turkey. To donate or find out how you can help, check peacegeeks.org.


87597f5b8e86c1f11ef6c2f3ab7c0b2b?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Jenni Sheppard
Senior Staff Writer at Daily Hive, the evolution of Vancity Buzz. Happy Vancouverite. Traveller, snowboarder, foodie, film fan, feminist, geek, cheesemaker, curler. Have a story to tell? Email [email protected]

© 2017 Buzz Connected Media Inc.