Can ODR Help To Resolve Conflict In Refugee Communities?

The arrival of over a million refugees in Europe and the wider region since the outbreak of war in Syria has brought human rights and migration issues into the headlines around the world. Last year, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCR) reported that forced displacement has reached a record high globally at 65.3 million people (one person in 113).

As many countries in Europe are currently hosting a large number of refugees, there is also a growing awareness of problems within and relating to refugee communities – most notably that of conflict. One thing that is noticeable about refugees that have made it to European Member States, is that the vast majority have mobile phones. This gave rise to the idea of an online dispute resolution (ODR) application to help refugees, refugee camp administrations and their host communities to resolve conflict. ODR is often championed as an effective tool in providing access to justice on a broad scale. This project seeks to do just that. I recently met the app’s creator, Petros Zourdoumis, who was kind enough to provide the GPC Blog with the following article.

The ODR for refugees application focuses on what we could call ‘easy ODR’. It is an app which enables refugees to have access to alternative dispute resolution services in a way which is adjusted to the special conditions they live in. So the main purpose of the app is to give refugees an easy path to information and to actual mediation services.

It does not focus on refugees permanently settled in the country of their final destination. Such refugees will gain access to state & private facilities & structures including dispute resolution mechanisms, as they are gradually incorporated into their new environment. For the moment we have focused on all those who are on the move or reside temporarily in refugee camps all over the world (including asylum seekers who have not yet gained refugee status). Refugees that haven’t yet settled permanently, as well as thousands of them that have to move all the time and live in inhuman conditions.

How it works

The app is very simple to use. Refugees are guided by the application to select from a list the type of their dispute and if they wish so to describe the issue in a couple of lines. Then they add their contact details and those of the other side. The system processes all the data and appoints a mediator from a list of mediators (matching several criteria such as nationality, languages, area, topic, gender etc.) who communicates with both sides. The whole mediation process can be conducted online from their smartphones through video conference (in joint or separate sessions) or through a chat tool.

The process will have no formalities, no minutes will be kept, and the settlement agreement will not be in writing. An online notification that an agreement has been reached will be sent to both sides calling them to honor it and praising them for their contribution to a peaceful dialogue. The app will also monitor the location of refugees, while having the refugee status, for purposes of securit