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Our Work

imok: a simple bot to support people undertaking risky activities

How we worked with No Borders Manchester on a simple text bot to support and protect Asylum seekers who are forced to 'sign on'.

Client: No Borders Manchester

Date: Summer 2021

Team: Kim

No Borders Manchester approached GFSC to create a tool to support their Signing Support Network. As part of the Tory government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, people seeking asylum in the UK must regularly ‘sign in’ at one of 14 ‘signing centres’ around the UK. In Manchester, this is Dallas Court Reporting Centre.

This has repeatedly been described by people seeking asylum as the most dehumanising aspect of the whole asylum process. The #AbolishReporting hashtag is widely used on this issue by a variety of groups including Right to Remain and Migrants Organise. Reporting centres tend to be in the middle of nowhere with no seating or shelter for waiting family members or friends provided. On attending, an immigration official asks a range of inane questions that seem designed to waste everyone’s time, but can theoretically impact your case for asylum. How often you have to check-in depends on how big a risk the government thinks you are, from every day to every quarter.

If the government does decide to deport you, then you can be immediately detained from the centre and taken to the airport for extradition often with no recourse to a phonecall or way of notifying next of kin. This makes the entire process extremely stressful as it can happen at any time with no prior warning. Currently, No Borders Manchester and other groups manually support individuals going in and out of Dallas Court. This is obviously enormously labour intensive and requires a constant on-the-ground presence by volunteers.

Our solution

imok is a simple bot designed to support people undertaking potentially risky activities. It’s primarily aimed at community groups working together to support these people.

The bot lets users ‘check in’ to the service with a messaging app or SMS message. If users don’t ‘check out’ after 30 minutes (for example), it raises an alarm in a Telegram groupchat that project admins can join.

Other example use cases for it are:

  • Supporting protestors at risk of arrest or kidnapping
  • Supporting women and LGBTQ+ people walking home at night, or going on dates
  • Supporting journalists or medical staff in warzones

We released it under an open source (MIT) license. If you’d like to dive in and have a look then go check it out on GitHub, which contains full instructions for setting up your own instance and a list of recommended security precautions.

We’ve still sadly not got to pilot this due to rapidly changing conditions around reporting during Covid. If you think this would be a useful tool for your group please get in touch.

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