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Available on Facebook, the Refugee Helper chatbot from CF Right to Protection is now operational. The online tool aims to simplify the provision of critical legal information for refugees and asylum seekers in Ukraine. Additionally, the chatbot will raise awareness around issues related to the rights and responsibilities of refugees and asylum seekers residing in Ukraine, and it aims to help these individuals to integrate into Ukrainian society.

The chatbot was previewed at a testing format in December 2019 during the Access to Justice Hackathon in Kyiv. 

Svetlana Butenko, Senior Attorney at Right to Protection (R2P), says that the idea of providing legal aid online through an automated chatbot originated in the organization some years ago. “It’s important to take into account the individual life circumstances in which our beneficiaries find themselves” Svetlana says. “These are people who may need legal assistance at any time: while they’re crossing the border, or at night during an illegal detention. Many of them don’t speak Ukrainian yet, and so it can be difficult to understand the authorities or the local community. That’s why it’s so important for us—using modern technology—to have an automated helper that can be available from anywhere in the world at any time. Moreover, this advice should offer clear advice in an appropriate language.” 

The Refugee Helper is on Facebook and available 24/7—users can receive legal advice and answers to common questions at any time of day. For example, you can learn how to apply for refugee status, what to do if your application is rejected, what to do when authorities ask to see your documents, where to find housing, how to get a job, and many other useful tips. 

Adapting the information and legal terminology to the average user has been one of the most challenging tasks in developing the program: “Of course, we knew that we had to provide information as simply and clearly as possible so that any person could immediately access and use the critical information” Ms. Butenko says. “This is why we’ve included the ability to download relevant documents, and we’ve added links to institutions, government agencies, and other organizations which can help if someone is in trouble.” 

The chatbot tool is not intended to replace the legal specialists at organizations like R2P; the available information will not be enough to solve all problems. In cases where additional help may be required, R2P has also provided their project hotlines which are available to potential clients:

Kyiv: +38 093 049 52 18; +38 094 905 67 62

Kharkiv: +38 094 811 17 64

Lviv: +38 093 023 08 55

And, in case of emergency, the Viber & WhatsApp Number: +38 093 038 95 62