The Walkie Talkie Information Service

Published: 17 December 2015 18:31 CET


Delivering information in the Greece migration crisis

By Meena Bhandari, community engagement and accountability, IFRC

“Where am I?” This is the most common question people fleeing conflict and upheaval ask when they arrive wet and cold on the northern coast of the small Greek island of Lesvos, says Maria Zigouri, a Hellenic Red Cross Nurse. “Then they ask ‘How can I leave?’,” she adds.

Crossing continents is no easy feat. Still, over 950,000 people have done so in 2015 alone, in what is the largest migration across Europe since World War II. More than 680 people have died off the Greek coastlines, families have been separated and children who are the most vulnerable have been left alone.

Ensuring that vulnerable migrants have lifesaving and life-enhancing information at their fingertips is vital. Timely, relevant and reliable information that enables people to make the best decisions for themselves is a critical part of any humanitarian operation. Information is paramount to ensuring that people are protected, healthy, and have the basics like food, water and shelter.

But information - a key currency for migrants along their journey – has been in short supply for many months in Greece.

Reaching people on the move

Informing people about where they are, how to leave safely, how to find a missing family member and which services are available makes them less vulnerable to traffickers and smugglers. When migrants have fled across borders and their legal status is uncertain information about their rights and entitlements is critical. Without this information people are left in the dark and frustrations build.

But how do you get information to people on the move?

Many different channels are needed to ensure that the thousands arriving in Lesvos each day all receive critical information. While smart phones, portals, social media and Whatsapp have been important communication channels for the migrants, using them relies on sim-cards, power and wi-fi. Also, many women, children or less well-off families may not have smart  phones.

“People are in shock when they arrive on the coast – they have had overwhelming journeys just to get to this rocky shore. They know that this is only one of the many hurdles they will need to overcome,” says Despina Constandinides, a psychosocial delegate with the Danish Red Cross. “Simple maps and posters are important so that they get the basic information,” she adds, “but I’ve noticed people don’t really look at these unless you guide their attention there and talk them through the information. They have too much on their minds to take it all in and they are reassured by face-to-face interactions.”

This is where having Red Cross volunteers on the ground make a real difference to people in distress. An information tool kit in multiple languages for volunteers is under production to brief migrants in the transit and registration sites. The kit includes simple maps, frequently asked questions and a cartoon ‘language board’ to help ensure understanding.

Innovative audio information 

In Greece, the Red Cross Red Crescent is also piloting an innovative audio information service to reach the vast numbers of people flowing through the country. The Walkie Talkie Information Service is a professionally produced program played on small freestanding speakers or loud speakers, by using MP3 audio files recorded onto USB sticks,  inside the transit and registration sites. The service has also recently been launched on the island’s northern shores where people arrive by boats.

Audio has been highlighted by migrants as a preferred channel for information in a recent communication with communities survey done in Lesvos Island.

The programme is played in areas where people gather, such as the Red Cross phone charging stations, and the daily clothing distributions. It informs people about the registration process and the services available at the sites. It also highlights the Red Cross hotline for refugees and migrants in Athens, where people confidentially get information in their own language.  

“It’s pure Arabic. It’s good information for me,” says a young man from Syria who is listening to the program in the Kara Tepe registration centre.

The service is the result of a partnership with a local media group. The local radio station not only offered its recording studios for the recording of the script by Arabic and Farsi translators, they also gave their skills and time to produce the programs.

There are plans to grow the Walkie Talkie Information Service into an interactive platform for many partners to channel critical information and engage with migrants. In addition, the audio programme is planned to be distributed directly to people’s phones so that they can access the information whenever they need it.

“We’ve been able to use the service to share information about the critical services that the Red Cross provides such as reuniting lost family members or where they can get first aid. Posters are useful but coupling them with audio is a powerful innovation in emergency operations,” says Stephen McAndrew, Head of the IFRC Emergency Operations in Greece.