Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use the data for a new project?

The spreadsheets were always open, so everybody can copy them freely and start a new project. Many have done so. (See f.e. this one page pdf ) The data continues to get incorporated in a variety of other projects, apps, printing and distribution sprints by a wide range of people all over the world. There is no control over this by anyone, so we do not know everyone working with the data. This is the idea of open data.

In the months since the project started we have worked with refugee initiatives from Dunkirk to Lesbos, gathered feedback with newcomers, prepared dozens of print versions and organized funding for printed booklets so initiatives can print and distribute phrasebooks where they are needed. If other refugee support initiatives have important phrases and links to distribute we are happy to share these with proper attribution as well. / Berlin Refugee Help

The idea of collecting and sharing translations is frequently reinvented in refugee support groups. And as with many good ideas, implementation is crucial. Many of the current coordinators of were members or admins of the facebook group Berlin Refugee Help. From this group the first set of translations were gathered in a Google Doc (August 28, 2015). This format was difficult to adapt and share. Julieta, Patrick and Paul then (August 29, 2015) created open Google Spreadsheets and brought in new translators and phrases. Markus made and maintained the website and created print versions. All were in agreement that our work should never be subject to ownership or copyright. Our work is free and open for everyone to use, reuse and improve.

As with any large group there will be differing opinions, and we welcome that. However, there are a few core principles we cannot differ on: Any important decision must be made by a team majority vote, no one claims ownership and the data remains open. One co-founding member did not wish to accept this and we have since parted ways. On September 8, 2015 the team members who translated, developed, created and maintained the database and website voted to continue independently in order to guarantee that the data remained open for everyone everywhere to add to, use and improve. It remains licensed under Creative Commons 0. We fully take on board any constructive critique but of course also we are greatly encouraged by the positive feedback we get.

Why do you apply for prizes and funding?

Printing phrasebooks costs money. For example, a recent print run in Greece for Kos and Idomeni (September 18, 2015) cost 2400 € for 10.000 booklets, including transport and taxes. This is not much, but we can’t cover it with donations yet, so we have applied for support on various occasions and with differing outcomes.

What about authorship, whose project is it?

We maintain the phrases in the open documents as open community resources, so that everyone can build something on top of it. We never have and will never claim authorship for the phrases or translations, as they were collected in an open collaborative process. Even in applications for print funding we emphasize that it is a community project built with many volunteers. When someone uses the data to create something for refugee help with a connected project, we include it on the website with full attribution. Did you create something with the phrases? Please let us know.

What is your political agenda?

Through our work we want to support open culture – we believe people and knowledge should be able to move freely. We are aware of the massive sacrifices and risks in leaving one’s home in great danger and facing nationalism, racism, an uncertain future in a foreign country. Refugee Phrasebook is a small gesture of solidarity that aims to help where it can: where a language tool is needed.

What happens with donations?

The team works on a volunteer basis. No one ever has received money for this work, and on many occasions, people have put private money into it to help. currently receives administrative support from Open Knowledge Foundation Germany e.V., so that we can provide donation receipts. They also take care of taxes, etc. pro bono. Since OKF is a Verein (e.V./registered society) with a strict transparency policy, funding and donations are included in their annual transparency report. We do not have direct access to funding. If you want to print something, please get in touch.

How is the team organized?

The project is maintained by a growing team, currently we are 8 people. Important decisions are made by a “steering board” of three team members which are voted regularly to keep the decision processes transparent, open, and flexible. Coordinators are currently located in Austria, Argentina, Germany, Netherlands and the UK. Whenever possible, we collaborate with refugee support initiatives and institutions: Especially in the printed versions, we need people in the field to decide on the contents, so we focus on creating easy ways to create custom versions.

How has printing changed since August?

Contact information and links to other resources have become an important addition to the printed versions. These can be warnings about minefields, hotlines for reporting missing persons or websites offering information on legal rights or language courses. For children and non-readers, icons (often copyrighted) are important. We have been working on improving this area with volunteers in the Netherlands. The short version in the collection of phrases is in higher demand but with limited funds at our disposal printing can be difficult.

The phrasebooks that are needed reflect the changing political situation on the ground. We are currently working on workshops and collaborations with newcomers in refugee centres throughout Europe. If you’ve made your own phrasebook, let us know so we can recommend it to others.

If you have any suggestions, questions, feedback, or critique, please get in touch with us at

Thank you for your support, team