How Tech Is Supporting Refugees Around The World

August 2, 2017

1:30 pm

Location-based and on-demand tech is a vital part of a Western consumer’s daily life. And while it’s helping someone find a ride home, the same science is providing much-needed support for refugees around the world.

The global refugee crisis has forced over 65.6 million people to leave their homes. Men, women and children have had to drastically adjust to a painful new way of life. Many who may have otherwise perished have reached safety thanks to technology.

From satellites to smartphones, the convenience-enabling technology that we often take for granted is making a real difference to refugees around the world.

Satellites Are Mapping Solutions…

Images from satellites have been recognized as an important part of the solution to the refugee crisis. Satellite mapping helps planners figure out how to prepare sufficient humanitarian aid, predict where refugee crises might occur in the future, and identify concentrated areas where people are dying or where diseases are spreading in camps across the world.

Images of the Rukban border crossing between Syria and Jordan, obtained from space, showed clear evidence of death and disease, with possible grave sites as well as a dramatic growth in the size of the settlement. Without satellite imagery, these issues may have been undiscovered.

An aerial view of Za'atri camp in Jordan

An aerial view of Za’atri camp in Jordan

Providing Access to Education

Satellites aren’t only useful for determining the tragedies that occur with refugees, but can also be used to educate future generations.

On World Refugee Day, the UN High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) released the world’s first satellite used for distance learning for child refugees in Ghana. Lessons were beamed from the satellite to provide an interactive live feed into the classroom, in the Ampain refugee camp.

Smartphones Are Abundant and Useful in Camps

One type of technology that a refugee can use for themselves is a smartphone. As German broadcast network Deutsche Welle states, in all the pictures shown on the news, we see refugees who have lost everything but the clothes on their backs and their phone. When the refugees who do survive the treacherous journey to Europe by boat hit dry land, the first questions they ask are about finding water and WiFi.

Their mobile phone, as for most people in our modern society, is their lifeline. We communicate with our phones through apps. Our phone also works as our camera, video recorder, occasionally mirror, map, news source, alarm clock and music player.

For refugees, a smartphone means safe directions to border crossings, weather reports, language translation, and access to social media communication platforms.

Apps Are Making Life Easier for Refugees

A number of startups and organizations have created apps to help make a refugee’s life easier. The Red Cross runs a platform called Trace the Face, where photos of refugees searching for family members are posted, whereas the Mercy Corps app helps refugees locate the nearest camps. RefugeeInfo is a popular website which provides information on getting registered and finding accommodation.

A London based organization called GeeCycle distributes old smartphones to refugees arriving in Greece, while Flüchtlinge Willkommen (“Refugees Welcome”) was the first “Airbnb for refugees”, founded by German roommates Jonas Kakoschke and Mareike Geiling. The company has helped 600 people since 2014.

It may be surprising to learn that many refugees have access to cell phones which are providing so much help. Going beyond day-to-day survival, this tech can also help provide opportunities for education, employment, and ultimately, a future for refugees

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Simon Davies is a London based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues and solutions.

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