A look at mobile and web-based services helping refugees and refugee aids.
MARCH 30, 2016
In some parts of the world, the origin of the internet was a beacon of a brighter future and a pathway to social equality. While the universal computer network’s commercial value dominates most facets of digital culture, the linchpin of cyberspace’s legacy could still end up being the proliferation of humanitarian efforts. The tech community’s response to the refugee crisis is emblematic of this ideal, and will go down in history as a global social impact initiative.
An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries since the civil war began in 2011.An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries since the civil war began in 2011. Many are traumatized, displaced, searching for their families, or trying to integrate into Western society. Europe is on the precipice of a massive shift in population, and the US may follow. Fortunately, humanitarian developers are creating tools addressing organization, migration, and integration.
Migration and integration
Approximately 85% of Syrian refugees have smart phones. Many rely on WhatsApp and Facebook to find routes and navigate their journeys.The Refugee AID App allows refugees to see all the types of aid available and nearest to them. At the same time, NGOs and aid organizations can input their services, tagged by location and type, and send geo-located push notifications to refugees. This makes it possible to improve aid delivery and efficiency, while decreasing costs. The app’s creator, Shelley Taylor, says that according to the research she’s done, approximately 85% of Syrian refugees have smart phones. Many rely on WhatsApp and Facebook to find routes and navigate their journeys.
“A very large percentage of Syrian refugees are actually middle class and just trying to get to safety,” says Taylor. “They typically travel with money and smart phones, though very little else.”
The web portal, Entrepreneurial Refugees, connects refugees with investors and mentors who can help them develop their business ideas. Designed as a collaborative platform, members can present their ideas to be evaluated by mentors, while likeminded people can come to the table and help. According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, migrants who arrived as refugees Down Under reported the highest proportion of incomes from their “own unincorporated businesses.”
The growing number of services and products being built to aid the refugee crisis can be daunting for someone trying to make sense of it all. MetaCollect aims to circumvent this. The database provides a place where refugee project creators can communicate their information, which is then spread out to the different overview databases via an API. This way the information collection is centralized, while the information can be distributed decentrally by the different overview databases and platforms. Refugee projects do not have to communicate to the multitude of different platforms, which saves a lot of resources for them.
“Projects find it difficult to keep their information and status updated on all these different platforms,” says MetaCollect project manager Ulrike Thalheim. With MetaCollect, these projects only need to distribute their information to one platform. Plus, people interested in finding projects for refugees and integration purposes can use the platform that fits their needs and interests the best. Thalheim says his team has gathered nearly 600 verified projects mainly from Germany.
“The range is wide,” says Thalheim. “We list language courses, vocational training offerings and university courses. We list integration apps that offer basic information or online q&a portals.... We want to achieve a very detailed view on what kind of projects are out there that support refugees and the integration process.”
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