New Canadians love their phones just as much as the rest of us, perhaps even more so. For refugees and other new immigrants, digital messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and WeChat are lifelines to family and friends back home, but they’re also valuable tools for settling into a new life in Canada.
Many newcomers use social messaging apps to informally crowdsource information, seek advice and connect with community. It can be a blessing and a curse: sometimes the information provided informally is inaccurate or out of context, sending the newcomer down the wrong path. Refugee 613 is leading a national project, funded by the Service Delivery Innovation fund at IRCC, to test new models for settlement agencies to use inexpensive digital tools to help newcomers get the right information at the right time.
It started in 2018, when Refugee 613 created a pilot project to provide verified settlement information to newcomers in their own language, on their phones. Funded by the United Way of Ottawa’s United for Refugees Fund, Refugee 613 Welcomes You to Ottawa is a moderated WhatsApp group that provides quality information and referrals. From Monday to Friday, group members can ask questions regarding local settlement services, cultural events and more, and receive answers from settlement information and referral specialists. The group was an instant success, and continues to serve more than 500 Arabic speaking newcomers and refugees in Ottawa.
Group members reported that they like the group because it helps them save time and money that they would otherwise spend trying to find the information they want. For one group member, the group helped her arrange for language classes.
“I have a baby at home and cannot attend English school. The group helped me connect with a program that provided me with a teacher who comes to my house.”
Settlement agencies see the group as a centralized source of reliable, trusted information to answer the common questions that refugees often need answered quickly.
Refugee 613 knew there was exciting potential to build the settlement sector’s capacity for using digital messaging for settlement, and created Digital Messaging for Settlement and Integration (DMSI), a three-year national project funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Refugee 613 created partnerships with organizations in four pilot sites to test new and innovative digital messaging models.
An important goal of the DMSI project is connecting people to build a strong network of practitioners. Are you already using digital messaging to support newcomers, or would you like to learn more about DMSI? Email the project team at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to hear from you!