26/10/2016 | Writer: Yıldız Tar

What is Refugee Support Map? What’s the reason of this project? How do they work? We asked, RSM team answered…

What is Refugee Support Map? What’s the reason of this project? How do they work? We asked, RSM team answered…

Refugee Support Map (RSM) is an interactive and multilingual map, run mainly by refugees that supports other refugees on the roads and in the country where they have settled.

On the map refugees can find the closest organisations that offer: emergency answers, legal support, medical aid, shelters, food and non-food items, transportation, language and other courses.

What is the reason behind this project? Who are the team? How did they gather all the data? And most importantly what’s the situation of refugees across the Europe. We asked, RSM team answered for KaosGL.org.

Who are you? An independent initiative or more?  

We are a group of activists composed of refugees who crossed the Mediterranean and Europe, an IT team based in Berlin and other volunteers spread all over Europe and the Mediterranean. Most of us were already working with refugees, asylum seekers and displaced communities. 

Our team is always evolving as the tasks have been divided according to people’s skills and time. Our team is composed of data collectors, translators, designers and IT specialists. All of us are volunteers on this project, and we gathered between ourselves the money needed for the website to exist. The team varied in size at time from three to 20 plus volunteers according to the needs of the project. The largest number of volunteers was needed at the very beginning when we had to gather data and imagine the map.     

We are an independent initiative. To preserve this independence we also decided not to ask for public or private funding and we all worked on a volunteer basis. 

What was the reason for this project?

In the spring and summer 2015, many friends and relatives of those who became the RSM core team, started to ask for advice, help and support as they were crossing Europe or as they arrived in the country meant to host them. They wanted to know where they could find support: medical care, legal advice, food, shelter, language classes. They turn to ‘us’ as we lived in the country they were asking for asylum, because we had experience in supporting refugees and asylum seekers or because we had taken this route too.    

“Refugee Support Map” started when a group of youth who were asked by friends and relatives about different forms of support decided to come together and create a map that will make public the kind of support available on the “Balkan route” and in the countries people seek asylum in. Mapping the independent organisations, collectives and NGOs offering support to refugees and asylum seekers appeared as a necessity when we realised that these information are quite difficult to access. Having them all on one map seemed the best way to make them reachable to the largest number.  

RSM is a project that started more than a year ago. It is the result of collaborative and work that is still ungoing. The aim of the map was thus to advertise about these organisations and the different support they offer, and make it really easy for people on the road or in their new home to find the closest organisation that could assist / support them. 

The RSM team is always evolving as we had more than 20 collaborators, most of them refugees themselves, all activists and volunteers spread between different countries. The team actually never met in one place and some of us only know one another online. The fundamental idea was that the map could only work and be useful if refugees themselves were the ones conceptualising and designing it. Indeed, they know the best what they need and what is the best way to represent it on a map.   

Despite having a team that collected information for the countries most crossed and where people settle the most, we had a team working on designing the map. The categories, the languages, the countries on which to focus were determined on the experience of those who had themselves taken the Balkan route and where trying to settle in the country where they asked asylum. Regular meetings started in the autumn/ winter 2015 with the IT team to build the map. Everything was think to fit the best to the need of the target group: refugees on the move and in host countries. However, this map, even if it was not its primary aim, can be a useful resource for people working with refugees.   

Whereas we wanted to make the map an app it was clear from the beginning that our lack of financial resources and our desire to stay independent would not allow us to create an app. But, we still want to make an app and will do a crowdfunding soon.

Can you tell a little bit about the gathering process? How did you gather all the adresses? What was your methodology? 

Almost all the members of the team had contact with several organisations supporting refugees: either they work in such organisations, volunteered in them, or benefited from their support. We started with the organisations we knew : organisations we volunteered with, organisations that supported us, organisations that we found when friends and relatives asked for support. 

Then we start randomly googling organisations in the languages we knew, according to the 6 categories we defined : shelter, health, law, clothes, social, food. We also found lists online that we included on the map. We wish we can also include existing maps that focus on one country or one city and are therefore more detailed.  

We decided from the beginning to map organisations that were already present on the internet, not to expose organisations that don’t want to be listed, or informal organisations that need privacy, especially if they squat places, or engage in activities that can be considered as illegal by some state – for example hosting refugees or riding them to another city / country. We also tried to map only the most independent ones. 

In order to broaden the mapping and listing of organisations in countries of which we didn’t speak the language, we ask fellow activists, friends, organisations to help us find contacts. 

The gathering process is the longest one and it is still on-going, it is actually a never-ending process as new organisations constantly emerge. This is why we asked on our Facebook page people to help us map more organisations. Moreover, all the information we gather or receive then have to be entered on the website and have to be translated in three different languages (for now Arabic, French and English).   

What is the condition of refugees across the Europe?

It’s difficult to answer to this question as a team! 

The condition of refugees across Europe is really difficult. The public speeches and political practices tend to dehumanize and demonize refugees. Refugees live for their majority in precarious situations. They are broadly mistreated. 

Today to come to Europe they have to put their life at risk to ask for international protection. They are stuck in camps in Greece where they are treated in inhuman ways, without any proper access to job, housing, food, health services, legal advices, education. They are in a legal no man’s land, and what seems an indefinite wait. 

During their dangerous journey they face constant mistreatment and violations of their rights, even after they arrive to what they thought was a place of protection and safety. 

Once in their host country, they face violations of their rights, harsh living conditions, racism and discriminations. 

Initiatives such as RSM that is a collaborative project between refugees and non refugees shows that there is still hope if people stand in solidarity with refugees and take action together and if they acknowledge refugees before all as people with agency, not as dehumanised victims.  

Tags: human rights