Mona: The Chatbot for Refugees

Mona: The Chatbot for Refugees

From Sarrah Nomanbhoy

Mona is a chatbot that helps refugees navigate resettlement and connect with legal assistance. Marhub is collecting funds to keep Mona live and further develop the platform to help us meet the growing demand!

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Update #1

about 3 years ago

We have officially reached our September fundraising goal of $5000! Thank you so much to all of you for your support. Our next target is to reach $15,000 by Thanksgiving day! Please do encourage your friends and family to support our campaign!

More Info

Donations to Marhub International Incorporated, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, will be used to cover infrastructure, engineering, and content development costs for Mona.  

About Marhub

Marhub is developing a digital platform that helps refugees to access crucial information and services through chatbots on social media. We are developing tools that help streamline and extend the services of our humanitarian partners, to make sure that our users get reliable, actionable responses when they need them most. 

Our story

Our journey began back in 2016, when as MBA students at UC Berkeley, we were watching the European Refugee Crisis unfold from afar. The question keeping us up at night was: “Why do refugees risk everything and put their lives in the hands of smugglers?” We traveled to Greece and later to Lebanon to talk to refugees about what was going on. 

One day we visited an informal camp in an olive grove in Lesbos, Greece. There, we met a man named Ali and his family, who fled from Aleppo to Turkey in 2015. 

When we asked how they ended up in Greece, Ali explained that his 8 year old daughter Nour needed a bone marrow transplant. He described being on hold for hours on the phone, sending emails, visiting one NGO after another, scouring Facebook pages for information. Someone told him that the Canadian embassy might be able to help, so he traveled hundreds of miles to reach the embassy, only to be turned away at the door. Nour’s health was deteriorating, and the only contact that was responsive was a smuggler he messaged over Whatsapp. The smuggler told him that he would be able to get treatment for his daughter by travelling to Germany. But when he reached Greece, he found out that the borders were closed, and his family has been stuck in painful limbo ever since. 

Our team kept thinking about how it must have felt for Ali, after months of desperately searching for information, to get a response within minutes when he messaged a smuggler. And we thought, what if reliable information and services could have been just accessible--on platforms refugees already use, in their own languages, on their own time?

The challenge

Today over 70 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including approximately 25 million refugees. The number of displaced people has doubled in the last 20 years, and our international system is struggling to adapt. Despite large governments and NGOs spending more than $70B annually on refugee processing, assistance, and resettlement , refugees often lack access to their basic rights and needs in exile. Our current solutions for managing migration are not hitting the mark.

The first thing we wanted to do was to make it easier for refugees to navigate resettlement because it’s often the most vulnerable people who get excluded. But two problems stood in the way:

1. Refugees lack access to tailored basic information. Procedures are complex and varies dramatically based on background, circumstances, and location. The information on websites and Facebook pages is not customized enough to be actionable. Scams and misinformation make things even more confusing. 

2. Legal aid organizations are overstretched. In 2017, less than 3% of refugees in Lebanon were provided with legal aid. Self-help materials are a starting point, but at a certain stage, many require the help of a lawyer. There are several great legal aid organizations that assist refugees with these procedures, but their reach is limited. One such legal aid organization is the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). They’ve provided legal assistance to 25,000 people from 73 countries. Inquiries have increased dramatically, and they’re struggling to keep up with responding, conducting pre-screenings, and providing basic legal information to everyone over email.  

We knew that a solution would have to address both of these problems. It would have to automate the sharing of basic information and help partner organizations to more effectively respond to requests for assistance. 

Meet Mona

Faced with frustrating delays, limited capacity, and a desire to reach more refugees, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) partnered with Marhub to develop Mona, a chatbot solution to increase the speed, efficiency, and reach of its legal aid services.


The solution represents a new model for delivering legal information and assistance that will increase awareness about resettlement programs, prioritize vulnerable refugees effectively, and help organizations deliver legal information and assistance at scale. The solution also takes advantage of high levels of smartphone usage and messaging platforms among refugees in urban areas (especially among Syrians).

Mona goes viral

A few weeks ago, in partnership with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), we launched our resettlement chatbot Mona for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Without any marketing or outreach, Mona went viral on social media on our second day. 

3,000 refugees have been screened by Mona so far. Through long, in-depth conversations, Mona screens refugees’ eligibility for resettlement, shares tailored, actionable information, provides referrals in cases where IRAP can provide legal assistance. She also helps IRAP screen and prioritize cases based on user need, eligibility, and vulnerability to ensure a timely response. Despite the length and complexity of the conversation, over 85% of users complete the resettlement pathway screening. 

User feedback

User feedback on Mona has been overwhelmingly positive (NPS score of 44, average helpfulness rating of 4.6 out of 5). And while user satisfaction is certainly higher among users who get a referral for legal assistance, those that IRAP is unable to assist are still rating the tool positively based on the self-help information they receive (NPS score of 24, helpfulness rating of 3.97 out of 5). Meanwhile, we’re also seeing significant gains in the speed and efficiency of IRAP’s screening response processes. 

Here are a few of the reasons refugees say they love Mona:

  • For ease with communication”

  • “My sister is working to fill out the [application form] after the valuable information you provided.”

  • “I feel my humanity and credibility.”

  • “I thank you very much for your good treatment and your representation of an organisation with good moral.”

  • “I felt comfortable talking to you and I thought you were serious about trying to help us as much as possible.”

  • “I didn’t know how to start, but now I will tell my son to start the [application] process.”

Next steps

There’s still lots of room to improve, and our preliminary results have helped us identify many opportunities to deepen our impact. We’re working hard to keep Mona live and to make her:

  • More useful for refugees by improving and expanding content. In addition to improving content on resettlement and alternative pathways to safety, we’re working with new partners to address other key refugee needs including Cash Assistance and Civil Documentation

  • Easier for our partners to use by adding new features to help them manage capacity and respond to inquiries more effectively
  • More flexible and scalable on Marhub’s backend to help us meet growing demand, prepare for regional expansion, and make greater use of machine learning techniques

How you can help

We’d love to have your support as we work towards Mona 2.0, which brings together multiple NGO partners to build a hub for refugee information and services. 


Between now and December, we hope to raise $25,000 to help fund these next steps and keep Mona running. Donations to Marhub International Incorporated, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, will be used to cover infrastructure, engineering, and content development. Contact us if you’d like to start your own fundraising initiative to support Marhub!


We’re looking for volunteers who have experience in fundraising, UX research and design, software engineering, data science, and Arabic language. Contact us if you know someone who might be interested in contributing part-time. 


Our goal is to build a hub that serves 250,000 refugees in the Middle East and Europe by the end of next year. Help us connect with potential partners, donors, and advisors who share our vision and want to help us scale up.


Follow us and share our work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Marhub’s Vision

Marhub’s vision is to develop a model for delivering information and assistance that improves access to protection and durable solutions. Long-term, Marhub’s chatbot will function as a central hub for information and services across sectors. The platform will provide tailored information and refer refugees to organizations based on both relevance and capacity to assist. 

Marhub’s migration management tools will enable organizations to improve the efficiency, quality, and scale of their services. As humanitarian crises unfold and evolve, our hope is that Marhub's data will help inform decisions about resource allocation, resettlement quotas, humanitarian coordination, and policies to promote integration.

We hope to reach 250,000 refugees across the Middle East and Europe by next year and 2 million refugees globally by 2022.

Thank you for your support!

Contact us

We'd love to hear from you! Contact us at [email protected] if you have questions or are interested in getting involved. 

--Team Marhub

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Sarrah Nomanbhoy posted a new update:
about 3 years ago

Update #1

We have officially reached our September fundraising goal of $5000! Thank you so much to all of you for your support. Our next target is to reach $15,000 by Thanksgiving day! Please do encourage your friends and family to support our campaign!

Join the Conversation

Sign in with your Facebook account or

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