Petros Zourdoumis, Director of ADR point and ODReurope, talks about conflict in the refugee context, access to justice issues, and the potential role of tech and ODR in providing solutions.
Why is resolving conflict in the refugee context so important?
It is important for two main reasons. A practical one, which has to do with the operation of the refugee camp and the need to keep tensions and misunderstandings to the absolute minimum. And a substantive one, which has to do with the right of the refugees to have access to dispute resolution, which is not easy if we take into consideration the conditions they live in, the fact that they are on the move and also the fact that refugees almost in their entirety will not be willing to use courts for anything that might impair their chances of being relocated to another country.
Is there a heightened risked of conflict in these circumstances?
Refugees had been through very dramatic experiences. They have risked their lives, they are away from home, they found themselves in uncharted waters and they are living in poor conditions. They are vulnerable, frightened, desperate and exhausted. It is very normal that their judgment and patience have also been affected and they may overreact to daily problems. The last thing they wish is to be burdened with a dispute.
That is why we need to offer them an easy mechanism to resolve tensions and misunderstandings before these escalate to serious conflicts and harm them and the community as a whole. That is why we insisted not only on making a dispute resolution app but a dispute prevention app. However, if parties fail to appreciate the preventive features of the app which work through notifications and useful information (such as the penalties for the most common offences in the host country etc), then the app can be used to intervene and stop the escalation of the conflict as fast as possible.
Why do you think an ODR format could be effective as opposed to traditional dispute resolution?
The online app does not in any way aim to replace face to face communication when circumstances allow so. Refugees can use the app to file a dispute and the mediator may decide to meet in person with the parties, if possible, and if he feels that this would benefit the resolution process. However, our view is that ODR could be very much effective when it comes to refugees. They can easily file a case through the app, they can mediate online avoiding unnecessary tensions with the other side or exposure to the community. In addition, they have easy access to a mediator and most importantly, as they are on the move, they have a tool that gives them continuous access to dispute resolution wherever they go.
What inspired you to create this app?
We worked with refugees a couple of years ago in the context of an international mediation competition. We recruited six young Syrian refugees from a camp, trained them in mediation and formed two teams to participate in the competition. To our surprise, they performed exceptionally well. We had long discussions with them about mediation and the conditions they lived in. Also we have been monitoring the refugee crisis in Greece for the past two years, and we have noticed that refugees had no access to easy dispute resolution mechanisms, but they had third generation smartphones as they were easy to carry with them. So, we have decided to develop a smartphone application that could create the environment for dispute resolution.
Who is behind it?
The leading team behind the ODR for refugees app is ODReurope, part of ADR point alternative dispute resolution center, the Greek Mediation Institute and INNOVIS IT solutions. The project was launched at the 2017 ODR conference in Paris and the world ODR community and many organisations have already embraced our project and expressed their interest to participate in our sponsorship programme and to contribute in any way that would give the project a wider global exposure.
What is your vision beyond the app?
In my view we have created a very complicated world. Too much bureaucracy, too many formalities and procedures. We need to shift to a simpler world. Moving out of courts for resolving disputes is a step towards that direction. Using technology to simplify it is an even bigger step. Simplicity can be the new vision for the future. It will give us back the precious time which is now wasted. In this sense I would like to see the ODR movement growing and be implemented more & more in the conflict industry. If our life time is so limited, we need to make dispute resolution fast and easy.
To begin with we want to see our ODR4Refugees app live and to start being used for resolving cases. We have installed and configured a BPM tool, written down and depicted the ODR procedure and started fine-tuning it. We are progressing at a good pace and we will soon complete phase one. We are also working on two more projects on ODR. A decision making tool selecting the most appropriate dispute resolution process in any given case and an online platform which combines access to ADR and judicial proceedings.
Interviewed by Natasha Mellersh.
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.