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Vancouver app aims to connect refugees and immigrants with resettlement services

Peace Geeks aims to help newcomers find their path to success and integration in Canada

Renee Black is the CEO of Peace Geeks, a Vancouver-based non-profit that uses technology to promote human rights.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Renee Black is the CEO of Peace Geeks, a Vancouver-based non-profit that uses technology to promote human rights.

A Vancouver tech organization plans to launch an app that will help refugees and immigrants connect with resettlement services once they arrive in Canada.

Many Syrian refugees will have already used a version of the app, called Services Advisor, which was made in partnership with the UN’s Refugee Agency and launched in Jordan refugee camps in 2014. A Canadian addition would function as the go-to place for all things resettlement, including language, health, housing, and career services.

The idea is to put newcomers on a path to success and integration, said one Vancouverite who volunteers with Peace Geeks.

“When refugees come here, myself included, I was very dependent on technology,” said Mohammed Alsaleh, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Canada a little over two years ago.

“I used Google maps to find my way, I used Google search to look up things. But there is no app specific to refugees or immigrants, bridging the gap between settlement work and technology.”

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Alsaleh now works with refugees as a resettlement councillor at Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISSofBC). He says an app like this could become a valuable tool for resettlement workers as well.

“It [could have] a future of developing a platform that can be very much like the software doctors have in their medical clinics, where every patient has their profile and then you can have all their needs, everything about them in one place,” said Alsaleh, who studied medicine in Syria before the war forced him to flee.

Peace Geeks developed a refugee app in 2014 for people living in Jordan's refugee camps, called Service Advisor.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Peace Geeks developed a refugee app in 2014 for people living in Jordan's refugee camps, called Service Advisor.

The app is still in the early stages of development and Peace Geeks plans to conduct consultations with the refugee community to ensure the app fits their needs, said Peace Geeks CEO Renee Black.

The non-profit is currently running against nine other finalists for $750,000 of funding in the Google Impact Challenge. That kind of money will go toward making an app that can tailor resettlement search results based on refugees’ profiles. For instance, a single mother with two children will receive information about health and school services.

“It can be an overwhelming process and there are a lot of services out there but not all of them are relevant to you,” explained Black.

The app will first launch in the Lower Mainland and Black has been working with service providers in Metro Vancouver for a year and a half to gather support for the app.

Recent events, like the election of Donald Trump and the rise of white supremacy events around the world have only spurred Black’s determination to help refugees succeed in their new home.

“When we look at the current political context, integration is really important and perhaps more important than it has ever been, at least in my lifetime,” she said. 

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