How chat bots are being used to help refugees

On-demand service Refugee Text is using messenger apps to provide vital information to refugees in a way that is convenient to them and targeted to their situations.


Chat bots are lending a helpful hand in the refugee crisis thanks to Refugee Text, an on-demand service informing refugees of their rights in Europe.

The refugees simply text ‘Hi’ to a mobile phone number to receive an SMS, or message the chat bot via Facebook Messenger or Telegram. The advice supplied by the bot comes from legal advisors who upload the latest legal information directly to the Refugee Text content management system.

Collaborating with refugees on the service, the developers ensure that the bot only asks for crucial information such as gender, marital status and whether the user has children, in order to tailor the information to their specific case.

READ MORE: Using messaging apps without being creepy

“The idea was to move quickly and react to what is happening politically, by serving the need among refugees for a direct and simple communication channel, as well as the need among organisations on the ground for an easy-to-use content management system to share information,” explains Refugee Text director Ciarán Duffy.

“We didn’t want to have an app that they would have to download, instead we wanted to use apps the refugees already had on their phones, like Facebook Messenger or Telegram, and if they don’t have smartphones they can receive an SMS.”

Established in January, Refugee Text is currently available in Germany, Sweden and Denmark. The team is, however, spearheading a crowdfunding campaign to establish a free information service in Greece, where the majority of refugees make their first contact with Europe.

The service currently operates in Arabic, although the team is looking to extend this to five or six major languages spoken across the Middle East when the service rolls out in Greece.

“Up until now we’ve been focused on the asylum process, but there is a big information gap in the integration process,” says Duffy.

“There are so many questions refugees might want to learn about schools, housing or the NHS here in the UK. So one of our goals is setting up a free on-demand information service across Western Europe and the UK over the next six to 12 months.”

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