By Emma Batha
LONDON, June 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Red Cross launched a smartphone app on Tuesday to help refugees and migrants arriving in Italy access information and services - including medical, psychological and legal support.
The digital platform called "Virtual Volunteer" was unveiled on World Refugee Day as new data showed the number of refugees globally reached a record 22.5 million in 2016.
"People moving are often caught in a fog of poor information," said Jagan Chapagain, head of programmes and operations at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
"They don't always know what services are available to them. This is a tool that will help give them a clearer view so that they can make informed decisions," he said in a statement.
Italy is on the frontline in the European migrant crisis which has seen hundreds of thousands of people arrive in the continent by land and sea after fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Nearly 70,000 have arrived in Italy so far this year, mostly migrants from West Africa and Bangladesh, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Virtual Volunteer uses geolocation to show users on a map where to access everything from shelters, food banks, canteens, and showers to clothes distribution points, maternal health centres, free legal assistance, dentists and language schools.
Refugees and migrants can also find advice on how to protect themselves from traffickers and can access information to help them locate family members if they have become separated.
The app - developed by the IFRC and tech giant IBM – has already been rolled out in Greece and Sweden where it has been used by 30,000 people.
"Information saves lives. Ensuring that people can access unbiased, factual information has a big impact," Italian Red Cross President Francesco Rocca said in a statement.
Virtual Volunteer, also accessible as a website, offers information in multiple languages depending on what is most needed in each country. Languages in Italy include French, Arabic and Tigrinya, reflecting the high number of Eritrean arrivals, while those in Greece include Arabic, Farsi and Dari.
The IFRC plans to role out the service in other countries affected by migration including the Philippines and countries in West Africa. (Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)