Ask An Expert: Petros Zourdoumis

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.