'Inaccessible, confusing or inaccurate' | New digital platform to help refugees

Integreat CFO Fritjoff Knier, CORE's service manager of multicultural communities Sharma Pande and UNSW Professor Walter Fernandez are working on a new digital platform to help refugees gather information. Picture: Simon Bennett
Integreat CFO Fritjoff Knier, CORE's service manager of multicultural communities Sharma Pande and UNSW Professor Walter Fernandez are working on a new digital platform to help refugees gather information. Picture: Simon Bennett

A night at the Sydney Opera House turned into a passion to help refugees and migrants for Professor Walter Fernandez. And Fairfield refugees and migrants are set to benefit - all in the palm of their hands.

Professor Fernandez, who is the chief investigator of the Digital Platform for Refugees and Migrants initiative at UNSW, was leaving a theatre production when he was offered some Iraqi tea from the Parents Cafe - the Fairfield High School-based not-for-profit organisation that assists newly arrived refugee parents settle into Australian life.

It sparked his curiosity and after setting up a meeting to meet the Parents Cafe to "understand what they need" he was put in contact with CORE Community Services who this year celebrates 40 years delivering vital services to the people of south-west Sydney, with a particular focus on culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Almost two years later and CORE Community Services are facilitating the development of a digital platform for refugees and migrants for the researchers from the Business School of the UNSW with the aim to create a one-stop digital space that integrates and delivers information to refugees and migrants and to organisations supporting their settlement.

"On arrival, refugees and migrants depend on timely information about the essential aspects of daily life in Australia. Unfortunately, the much-needed information is scattered across many stakeholders and thus often inaccessible, confusing, or inaccurate. To address this issue, we aim to create a digital platform to enable organisations to deliver accurate, timely, and relevant information to clients," Professor Fernandez said.

The new digital platform is expected to launch in June.Picture: Simon Bennett

The new digital platform is expected to launch in June.Picture: Simon Bennett

"Can you imagine if you arrive in a new country, there is a lot of information there. Some information you cannot access because you may not have access to internet or a computer. Some information would be wrong, some information will be outdated or some information will be misleading. Maybe the wrong information is getting to you and you don't even know what is wrong and what is right

"Our research aims to create an ecosystem of digital services to integrate and deliver information to refugees and migrants and to those organisations involved in their support, employment, education, and care.

"Fairfield was extremely important to us because it has such a great diversity in community and they have so many people coming into the area so we thought that will be the best place to start and then we can transfer it to other regions."

So what it is actually being developed?

The goal is by June next year newly-arrived people to Fairfield will be able to download an app to access all the necessary information to facilitate their resettlement.

The solution builds on the Integreat platform, an award-winning digital platform that is effective in promoting digital solutions to refugees and migrants in 53 municipalities in Germany.

Government and authorised service providers input information directly in the system ensuring reliability and control at a low operational cost.

Last week two workshops were held at the Fairfield Youth and Community Centre to inform local agencies and community members on the initiative and provide an opportunity for local stakeholders to provide input to shape the platform and outline the needs of refugees and migrants.

Fritjof Knier from the Tur an Tur Digital Factory Digital Factory (the creators of Integreat) was on hand to talk about the success of the platform in Germany since starting in 2015.

"Around 80 to 100 new refugees were coming into Germany every week and not speaking the language so public administration and organisations had a really tough time getting information across and informing people about their next steps. Not event talking about education and employment, but how to find housing," he said.

"So we said with all the digital opportunities we have what can we do to get the expertise from public administration and different organisations and experts to those who need this information.

On arrival, refugees and migrants depend on timely information about the essential aspects of daily life in Australia. Unfortunately, the much-needed information is scattered across many stakeholders and thus often inaccessible, confusing, or inaccurate.

Professor Walter Fernandez

"And so we built a platform where we gathered all the knowledge of public administration, social organisations and experts working in the field for a long time and getting it basically written down, but in a digital way, getting it translated, and then getting it pushed out to refugees and migrants via an app that we built for them.

"We started with the city of Augsburg and then other cities were interested in adapting the app and the platform because refugees and migrants are distributed equally in Germany, so it was really a nationwide challenge to get refugees integrated into our communities."

Mr Knier said once you enter the app, within two clicks you will able to get the information you need.

"And if you can't find it, you will be able to send a message as to what you're missing in the app and the group who's creating the content, will will will be able to read it and update this information if it's missing. So it's really a living platform that is always evolving and learning with the users and the content providers.

"You need internet to access the information the first time and then it is saved on your phone so you can wander around not having a constant internet connection. And you select the language you want the information in.

"The challenge we were facing Germany is really present all over the world. If you don't speak a language, you will not have access to information if you come to a country, and there's so much power in information. So we're talking about breaking down information barriers for newcomers."

Shama Pande, CORE's service manager of multicultural communities, said education, employment, health, women and family were some of the topics discussed to be available on the app.

"I think as a settlement sector, we've always talked about access to information and how important it is for our clients because over a period of time, we've seen that refugees and migrants settled better when getting the right information at the right time," she said.

"There is information information available on websites, service portals and Facebook but it's organisation working silos.

"So what this project initiative does is bring all the information related to settlement for refugees and migrants at one stop and what this does is facilitate services to come together and provide trusted advice and from multiple sources, so it's not one organization providing all the information.

"The only way we can sustain digital platforms such as this is through service collaboration, getting people on board and having that partnership."