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 security, administration and response to their needs, with due respect to all relevant laws.
Living in a virtual world
We know that we live in a world where almost everything can be done through technology. So why not take advantage of it! In our case Ethan’s Katsh “fourth party” is a smartphone. Easy to carry and easy to use! So, we decided to design all the features on the operational environment of a smartphone. We tried to keep it simple, multilingual, with a friendly interface, with easy options to choose between and very simple for anyone to use.
Our decision was very much depended on the fact that most of the refugees in Greece had smartphones. Although we still know that is not the case with all refugees, the fact still remains that smartphones can be used to access dispute resolution services. For those refugees who do not have one we are planning to ask mobile companies and providers to offer smartphones and connection within the context of their corporate & social responsibility programmes.
Solving new and existing conflicts
Having monitored life in the refugee communities we decided at the beginning to focus mainly on four areas of disputes. Firstly, to settle disputes which touch upon the relationship between residents of the refugee camp who share space and facilities. We needed to develop a process which could absorb the tension existing between them and find a way to settle these disputes amicably.
Secondly, to resolve disputes of cultural, religious and social context, the ones they carry with them from their home country, as there have been instances of hostility between refugees from different countries and social background. Thirdly, to settle disputes arising from the relationship between refugees and people from local communities (citizens, shop keepers, other professionals) as there were conflicts between them for reasons such as discrimination, poverty, lack of communication and so on. Fourthly, to settle disputes arising from the relationship between refugees and the camp administration officials – which were often a source of conflict due to various daily routine issues such as lack of proper care, overcrowded camps, poor facilities, rules & regulations and so on.
The app is very easy to use even for those who have limited knowledge of the full functions of a smartphone. The system practically guides the refugee through simple steps, in a language he speaks and by clicking or selecting options. So, there is no need for training for the users. They only need to download the app in their smartphone and start using it.
Written by Petros Zourdoumis.
Petros Zourdoumis is a practicing negotiator and a mediator accredited by the Greek Ministry of Justice and international mediation training providers in Europe and the USA. on Civil, Commercial and Workplace Mediation as well as International Mediation and Cross-border disputes. He is the General Director of ADR point – Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution, and has successfully concluded online cross-border mediation cases in civil disputes and has developed an expertise in bank related disputes for private debt settlement. Petros is also a fellow at The National Center for Technology & Dispute Resolution (USA) and founder of ODReurope, which seeks to implement technological solutions in every day practice of resolving disputes. He has participated in the working group of The Hague ODR Conference for Online Justice and is currently leading several projects involving the use of IT in dispute resolution.