SEATTLE — In comparison to many recent humanitarian missions, Syrian refugees and the countries that host them are significantly more tech-savvy.
According to a recent survey conducted by Penn State University and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 86 percent of the youth interviewed own a mobile device and more than 50 percent use the Internet either once or multiple times per day.
The prevalence of technology among refugees can work to their benefit. Apps, social media and websites, are all being produced by aid organizations and individuals to assist refugees in various aspects of life.
Here are a few notable examples of technology helping refugees.
Social media and messaging plays a huge role in helping refugees from Syria stay connected and in touch with the news. Commonly used applications include WhatsApp, SMS, social media channels such as Facebook. In addition, dedicated Arabic-language information sites, such as Refugees-Lebanon.org and help.unhcr.org are commonly used to blast out informative and anti-fraud messages.
Various smartphone apps that aim to provide information and advice have also been hugely beneficial. Gherbtna is an app that is arguably one of the most impressive stories of the use of tech to help Syrian refugees in Europe.
The app aims to give new refugees in the country a step-by-step guide to receiving help, offering a wide range of services including how to find housing, medical services, food and schooling. So far the app has been downloaded more than 10,000 times.
Google’s “Crisis Info Hub” is a website that aims to provide “hyperlocal” information, including advice to refugees specific to their location on where to find lodging, how to conduct their journey and where to seek medical attention.
Refugees Welcome (RW) is a German nonprofit which matches refugees with Europeans who have spare beds. This is accomplished through their platform: people first list their flats and then RW works with local organizations to match refugees with suitable hosts. Though their presence is strongest in Germany and Austria, they have expanded to eight other European countries and so far have matched 684 refugees to shared flats.
In the Netherlands, three young entrepreneurs launched Refugee Hero, a similar Airbnb-style platform. Their website includes private residential listings as well as organizations which have opened up their facilities for housing such as churches, mosques, schools and universities.
SAP, Europe’s largest software maker, announced last fall that it was developing an app that allows refugees to apply for asylum in Germany prior to arriving. This is intended to streamline the registration process and reduce the waiting time on the status of the application.
The app would allow migrants to fill in personal data, details of any relatives in Germany, education and work experience while still on the road. German officials would be able to access registration forms from databases, allowing them to keep track of the refugees and monitor if they are still in the country.
Refugees Work is an Austria-based online jobs platform that was launched in March. Its function is to match registrations from employers wanting to hire refugees and refugees seeking local work. Founder Dominik Beron says that thus far, 130 employers have registered and 1,000 refugees have signed up.
The platform, along with making jobs more accessible, has several strengths.
First, it provides relevant legal information regarding employment. A common worry to hiring refugees is the complexity of the local legal environment regarding their work status; companies often do not know how or even whether they can employ refugees. The platform aims to solve this by incorporating the work status of each individual into its job matching algorithm. Thus, employers will not have to worry about the legality of employing a person they match with.
Second, it aims to help integrate refugees into the workplace by offering resources to help with cultural fit issues and other integration-related concerns that deter employers from hiring them. One specific feature is the built-in embedded messaging plus calendar tool, which offers an easy channel for refugees and employers to communicate.
These are just some of the ways that organizations and individuals are helping refugees to integrate into society and improve their livelihoods.
– Anton Li