EMA chatbot to protect fugitives from exploitation

Websites in German are a major obstacle for people on the run. To better support them with labor market abuses and housing issues, ZHAW has developed a multilingual website with a chatbot. Unlike many digital dialogue systems, it works according to the logic of the users.

The war in Ukraine and the growing number of people seeking protection are challenging authorities to house and care for large numbers of refugees in a reasonable time frame. Most of the people who have fled Ukraine are women and children. They are therefore particularly vulnerable groups of people. In the areas of housing and work, the risk of exploitation of those who have fled is increasing. In order to help those affected to find their way around, to recognize and classify potentially dangerous situations and to report cases of exploitation immediately, researchers at ZHAW have developed the "Safety for Refugees" website.

Empowerment help

The website consists of a rule-controlled chatbot, EMA, short for "Empowerment Means All". The goal of this bot is to make available the numerous information in specialized language, scattered in different sources, in a user-centered way. EMA sorts the requests and provides answers in Ukrainian, Russian, German and English.

The chatbot deals with topics related to work and housing and is limited to the canton of Zurich and to people seeking protection with refugee status S. "This spatial and personal restriction is due to the fact that this is a pilot project for the time being," explains Judith Bühler, project manager at the Department of Social Work at ZHAW. "We need manageable complexity to develop a solution and to be able to learn from experiences. With EMA, we are testing the first product that works at a minimum, but we hope to be able to expand it to other cantons, other topic areas, and other types of residence permits."

inform about rights and duties

In contrast to the chatbot of the Migration Office of the Canton of Zurich, EMA is not intended to support the work of an organization, but to enable users to find their way through the inter-organizational interaction of the most diverse information and advice offers in the fields of housing and work. "Our chatbot empowers through information and thus strengthens self-protection," explains Judith Bühler.

One of the big challenges in developing the chatbot was how to optimally organize the interaction, explains the project’s technical manager, Don Tuggener from the School of Engineering: "The central element has always been that the answers fit into a specific context and are not ambiguous. This prevents misunderstandings and prevents contextually incorrect answers from being given and, in the worst case, an operating situation from being wrongly recognized." For this reason, the project team decided to develop a decision tree and guide users through a predefined dialogue flow.

What is the digitization initiative?

The aim of the digitization initiative (DIZH) is to promote cooperation between Zurich’s universities in the field of digitization and thereby strengthen Zurich as a research and business location. The University of Zurich (UZH), the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) and the Zurich University of Teacher Education (PHZH) are systematically networking within the framework of DIZH in order to advance research and innovation in the area of digitization with interdisciplinary approaches.