Refugee.Info is a two-way, multi-disciplinary communication platform in Italy that is used to understand the issues users are facing and to connect them with available services. A key population that uses the platform are refugees and asylum seekers who are facing a myriad of challenges, including protection issues such as forced eviction in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. After introducing and testing the tool, it became clear how it could be used to track emerging protection risk patterns in support of achieving protection outcomes. This new initiative was submitted to InterAction’s 2020 Results-Based Protection Good Practice Contest by Katie Grant, Elena Caracciolo, and Camilla Fabozzi on behalf of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) team in Italy. The team was awarded ‘Second Runner-Up” for initiative.
I couldn’t pay my rent because everywhere on lockdown. I can’t go out and I don’t have a job yet. I do minor jobs like cleaning of house and making hair. I don’t know what to do. Please what should I do […] I can’t even report to the police because my residen[ce] is not there. Please help me.Refugee.Info Client, April 2020
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) team in Italy, through Refugee.info, has received an uptick of messages similar to the one above in which users emphasized the deterioration of their living conditions. Many noted that they could not pay their rent and thus, feared being evicted.
Through research and its own analysis, IRC discovered that those most at risk were refugees and asylumseekers who did not have formalized housing contracts and as a result, were unable to legally benefit from state protections against evictions. To equip the aforementioned affected population and alleviate anxiety induced by evictions, the IRC team published an article on the Refugee.Info website and its Facebook page which discussed the rights of refugees to accommodation. The article also informed refugees on how to navigate the measures adopted by the government to support tenant’s rights. The overwhelming response to the posts allowed the IRC team in Italy to identify local service providers who could offer legal or housing assistance. Additionally, to combat misinformation, the moderators monitored the chat and produced subsequent informative articles that addressed them.
In addition to the website and a Facebook page, the Refugee.info initiative, as part of IRC’s global Signpost project, also includes Messenger and a “group chat” of more than 26,600 users and partners. By using platforms that are familiar to users and adapting their language to reflect a peer-to-peer approach including emojis and slang the team has been able to build trust with its user base; In a 2019 study, 90% of users reported trusting the content and information services provided via the platform. Apart from helping refugees and asylum seekers access services, know their rights, and navigate a changing policy landscape through responsive information, IRC Italy is exploring how Refugee.info can be used to track trends in risk patterns that users share on the platform, like forced evictions. The team has been working to develop context-specific indicators to help them better monitor how protection risks are developing and changing in Italy. This systemized tracking will strengthen the team’s protection analysis and ability to inform IRC’s own programming and engage other organizations with the expertise and skills to reduce protection risks.