Reaching People Affected with Helpful Information

Migration and displacement pose some of the biggest humanitarian challenges of our time. At the end of 2022, 108.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of ongoing and new conflicts. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) supports people on the move, with a focus on saving lives and preventing suffering. In 2019, the Netherlands Red Cross, together with their data and digital initiative 510, developed the Helpful Information web-App (HIA) to provide migrants and refugees, as well as those assisting them, with easily accessible information.

**“With HIA, the Netherlands Red Cross informs undocumented migrants about local aid offerings. The strength of HIA is that it is very easy to put and maintain information on the website. This makes it possible to collaborate with local branches, where they keep track of the information.” **

Carry van Wersch, program lead supporting undocumented migrants – The Netherlands Red Cross

HIA is currently in use across 6 projects in 4 countries, always providing information that is relevant to the specific target group and program context This can vary from providing the location of Humanitarian Service Points and information about basic rights, to instructions on how to access medical assistance and psychosocial support, as well as legal advice. HIA can also assist aid workers in contact with people affected, by displaying an overview of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that is regularly updated.

Developed through Human-Centred Design – with and for users
HIA is a direct result of co-designing and user testing with undocumented migrants living in the Netherlands. Their experience, knowledge and needs have been at the heart of the design of this web-app, a methodology called Human-Centred Design which stresses the importance of involving the human perspective in the product creation process. Many undocumented migrants have told us that they are very selective with downloading applications and that this is why they would prefer a website over an app. We’ve learned that this is because they often lack storage space on their phone, which is because they use the cheaper and older models that they are able to afford. They’ve also told us that most of the time, they rely on the free WiFi that is provided in the day and night shelters where they are temporarily staying. These WiFi connections are usually shared with many others, making it difficult to load images, videos and interactive content. We have built the web-app with these real-life experiences in mind, for example by making it as lightweight as possible. With this way of working, 510 strives to ensure that any digital solution that we offer is user-friendly and practical.

HIA in the Netherlands
December 2019: HIA for undocumented migrants in the Netherlands

There was already a lot of support available in the Netherlands but it was not always easy to find. HIA offered a solution.’ says Anne van Berkel, former project manager at the Netherlands Red Cross. In this first version of HIA, undocumented migrants can access the web app by simply googling for information, or through a QR-code which is shown on posters and business cards at places they frequently visit, such as local day shelters like the Worldhouse. On the landing page, they can choose the city that they are in or closest to and obtain an overview of the local support that is available to them there. Behind the scenes, Netherlands Red Cross focal points in the districts as well as in the main office in the Hague keep this information up to date, in direct correspondence with the local organisations that provide the support. Since the start, this version of HIA has had an average of around 4.000 visits per month.

May 2020: HIA for (undocumented) migrants affected by Covid-19 in the Netherlands
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the Netherlands and just before the height of the restrictions and lockdowns, we contacted a group of (former) undocumented migrants who we knew from the co-design sessions that we did for HIA in 2019. We asked them how they were, and if and how their needs had evolved because of Covid-19. Based on this and other input and research, we designed the project Direct Digital Aid with which the Netherlands Red Cross provided support around three digital pillars: a digital supermarket voucher, a WhatsApp helpdesk and HIA. For HIA, this meant that we started adding information about Covid-19 and the restrictions in different languages, addressing questions that people had, for example about the 1,5m distance rule and whether it was dangerous to share the same kitchen appliances in the shelters that they were staying in. Later, when the vaccines became available, we started adding information about the vaccine locations and addressed concerns and questions people had, for example about the need to show identification in order to get a vaccine and the fear for being no longer under the radar of the authorities. During these months, this version of HIA had an average of around 6.000 visits per month.

March 2022: HIA for Aid Workers in contact with refugees from Ukraine arriving in the Netherlands
When the Netherlands Red Cross started responding to the large-scale population movement resulting from the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, a WhatsApp helpline a phone based information line and three Humanitarian Service Points were set up to assist refugees from Ukraine who were arriving in the Netherlands. With the large number of staff and volunteers involved across these different channels and locations, and with the government still designing the policies and processes to be put in place, it was difficult to make sure everyone had access to the right and up to date information. Co-design sessions with the focal points from the different engagement channels showed a clear need for one information hub that could centralize answers to the most frequently asked questions, avoiding the risk of their team members working with downloaded or printed, and therefore outdated, PDF or Word documents. Here, the original HIA served as a base to develop the HIA – FAQ. In a slightly different format, now with a drop-down button with an answer for each question, instead of the local organizations providing support, the web app reveals the most relevant information and its source, for example a government website. This ensured easy access to updated and reliable information for the aid workers, who could then communicate this to the refugees from Ukraine through the various engagement channels and locations. Since the start, this version of HIA has had an average of around 3.100 visits per month.

September 2022: HIA for Aid Workers in contact with people in the asylum procedure in the Netherlands
Amid overflowing asylum centres in the Netherlands, the Netherlands Red Cross started a shelter program, in which they manage shelter locations across the country in collaboration with municipalities and the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). Red Cross aid workers manage, advise and support locations, as well as providing a listening ear, offering psychosocial support and organizing daily activities. Preliminary co-design sessions showed that staff and volunteers working at these shelter locations were receiving more and more questions, for example about the asylum procedure, and that they were struggling to find the right information to provide an answer that would actually help the people there. Therefore, in September 2022, we added the information relevant for this shelter program and for the aid workers in contact with migrants and refugees arriving in the Netherlands and who are navigating the asylum procedures to HIA. This information ensures that all aid workers working in shelters have access to up to date, concise and easily accessible information which they can share in response to questions. This version of HIA is also used for the onboarding of new aid workers at the shelters, to learn more about the steps of the asylum procedure and the basic rights of refugees in the Netherlands. Moreover, this version of HIA is also used by the WhatsApp helpdesk of the Netherlands Red Cross for answering questions from people in the regular asylum procedure. This version has had an average of around 800 visits a month since its start

Future steps
While HIA was first introduced in 2019 to assist undocumented migrants in the Netherlands, since then, it has evolved into a centralized knowledge platform available for people on the move, (migrants, refugees and IDP’s), as well as aid workers in direct contact with them. Beyond the Netherlands, HIA is now also being used in Hungary, Kyrgyzstan and Jordan. New instances can be set up within a day when there is a need for centralized information related to a new program or emergency. We are constantly improving HIA by doing user tests with the different target groups and are also starting to scale the product by working with more and more National Societies.

We want to hear from you!

Are you interested in collaborating with us on similar solutions in the field of Community Engagement & Accountability, tailored to your context? Please reach out to:
Advisor, Community Engagement and Accountability: Jonath Lijftogt
Program lead supporting undocumented migrants: Carry van Wersch

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