International Rescue Committee

Delivering Information as aid

To provide refugees with information on legal aid, healthcare, and housing, the IRC built a conversational helpline with Twilio Flex and WhatsApp

International Rescue Committee


increase in inbound conversations


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Meeting people where they are

Today, one in every 100 people on the planet is a refugee or displaced person, according to the United Nations. These are people from all walks of life. They are nurses, doctors, bakers, teachers, and fitness instructors. As refugees navigate their journey to safety, access to information can mean the difference between freedom and persecution.

How do I apply for asylum? Where is there a safehouse? How can I get access to food and healthcare on my journey? What immigration laws have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic? With answers to these questions, refugees and displaced people can decide for themselves the best path forward for their families.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one of the largest humanitarian organizations providing support to refugees. The agency is dedicated to helping refugees answer these questions, and IRC relies on Twilio to power its communications.

“We like to think of ourselves as a solutions-oriented NGO,” said David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee. “You’ll find plenty of organizations that talk about the suffering, but our partnership with Twilio is all about solutions because the people that we help haven’t got time to feel sorry for themselves. They actually teach us about resilience, courage, determination, survival and recovery.”

IRC sought to expand its technology programs beyond focusing on improving internal-facing operations, such as collaborating on projects remotely, to improving how they serve the refugee community directly.

“The hill we wanted to climb was not just using technology so that aid workers can do their work better but using technology so that the people we serve can lead their lives better,” said Miliband. “There’s no better example of this than the work we’ve been able to do together with Twilio.”

To better serve refugees in the Northern Triangle of Latin America, the humanitarian agency set out to build an information platform that connected refugees to resources immediately over chat. The organization faced three challenges in building its helpline: offering channels refugees use every day, reaching more people with limited staff, and integrating its helpline into existing systems. Here’s how IRC addressed these challenges to support thousands of refugees and displaced people in Central America.

The ability to use WhatsApp as a channel rather than traditional SMS or email was critical for our program given its ubiquity in Latin America.

Andre Heller Director of the IRC’s Signpost project

Building a conversational helpline 

IRC chose to build its helpline on Twilio Flex because the cloud contact center offers a WhatsApp API, helpful tools for building chatbots, and the flexibility to integrate other systems and channels.

When a refugee or displaced person reaches out to the Signpost Twilio-powered WhatsApp number, they get an automated response back. The return message provides a series of topics the refugee could learn more about, from COVID-19 health information, to legal support, women’s health, food security, housing, and more. When they ask about a particular topic, the bot responds with more information and resources for that topic.

IRC created the experience with Twilio Studio, a visual editor for building conversational bots on any channel.


While interacting with the bot, a refugee could always ask to speak to a moderator or ask a question that the bot isn’t trained to answer. At that point, the conversation is routed to IRC’s Twilio Flex instance staffed by trained specialists.

When moderators get a new case, they have access to the previous chatbot conversation with the context they need to help right away. Clients see moderator responses within the same WhatsApp thread as their original chatbot conversation.

Because the Twilio Flex interface is completely customizable, the IRC team was also able to integrate its custom CRM system into the moderator view. Now, specialists can track case details and easily make referrals to other service providers from within Twilio Flex.