Syria refugees tap in to legal advice by text

Hannah Kuchler in the Financial Times: “Syrian refugees can now access free legal advice by text message after a Palestinian start-up launched a service in Turkey, which it hopes to expand to reach refugees across Europe.

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria can receive legal guidance via their mobile phones on everything from whether they have the right to work to education services available for their children, after Souktel, a small start-up partnered with the American Bar Association.

The 30-person start-up employs both former humanitarian workers from Oxfam and USAID, who understand the problems faced by refugees, and software engineers who tackle the challenge of sorting, tagging and translating enquiries which are then sent to a team of Turkish lawyers.

Jacob Korenblum, president and chief executive of Souktel, said more than 10,000 individuals have used the service since it launched less than three weeks ago, with lawyers busy answering a steady stream of questions.

“Given the strength and rapid interest in this service and the uptake since its launch, we want to scale into Greece and other European countries to meet the same need,” he said. “This is very much becoming a pan-European problem at the very least.”…

The American Bar Association approached Souktel and asked them to build a service that could offer remote legal support and uses funds from international donors to pay the company….

Smartphones — or even basic mobile phones — have fast become one of the easiest ways of communicating for the poor or dispossessed. Even when basic infrastructure has failed, people are able to access information and connect with relatives abroad via their devices.

Mr Korenblum, a Canadian former aid worker, helped found Souktel after he saw young people in Palestine relying on their mobile devices when working there 10 years ago. The company has built similar services on behalf of humanitarian organisations working in other areas — including the UK’s department for international development in Gaza, Iraq and Somalia, among other places…(More)”