Capsized boats, overcrowded trains, packed refugee camps.
Governments in Europe are struggling with the high influx of refugees and migrants, and have so far failed to reach consensus on a joint strategy.
I am from the government, I am here to help. The scariest words when it comes to finding new ways of doing things?
Technology, especially mobile phones, provide a lifeline for many refugees. So tech solutions could play a much bigger role in helping them during and after their journey.
And many tech communities are already here to help.
Techfugees, supported by a group of organisations including Nesta, kicked this month off with a conference and hackathon in London, where entrepreneurs, developers, NGOs and the UN's Human Rights Council showcased existing tech initiatives and built new products that can help with Europe's refugee crisis. You might be impressed by what's already out there!
Bridging language gaps. European countries have already received 700,000 asylum requests this year. To find their way around, applicants need to learn the local languages and hundreds of volunteers have already stepped up to run free language courses. Digital platforms can help with this. Busuu for example allows anyone to learn English, German, French and twelve other languages online - for free.
Upskilling. Firms across Europe struggle to fill their positions. In 2015, 15% of UK firms reported difficulties in hiring talent, and this number goes up to 40% in Sweden and Germany. It's IT firms that struggle the most. Projects like Refugees on Rails therefore provide free coding classes where refugees can learn valuable skills while their applications are being processed. Kiron University, an online university for refugees that launched in 2014, also provides free online education. Both projects are designed and run with, not just for, refugee communities.
Making connections: The more support, the merrier. But to be effective, initiatives must join forces and be easy to find. If you would like to join a fundraising or donation campaign, Refugee Maps connects you to existing campaigns in the UK and the Netherlands. Those who want to help with a spare room can offer it to a refugee through the Refugees Welcome website.
Data, data, data: We need better data. Why? The UN for example identified the fight of human trafficking as an important issue in the refugee crisis, and this requires data on what is happening where. That's why Global Initiative Against Organized Crime built an open database of migrant-smuggling routes, with details on the modes of transport, prices traffickers ask for etc. At Techfugee's conference, Rohan Silva (previous government adviser at No. 10) also pointed out that new initiatives stand a much better chance of gaining government support, and funding, if they can measure their impact. The benefits of tech solutions are not self-evident. Nesta research found that in the UK, 1 in 6 people are actually concerned about the social impact of innovation and technology.
Technology is not the silver bullet to Europe's refugee crisis. But tech can be a powerful tool. Let’s harness its potential, or as techies like to say, use #TechforGood.
Check http://www.for-good.io/ to learn which products came out of the Techfugees hackathon, or watch the Techfugees conference below to find out more about existing #TechforGood projects.
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