We don't often put refugees and technology together, but maybe we should.
Technology has got the power to transform the life of a refugee and in more way than just one. It isn't facebook, twitter or snapchat that comes to the mind of a displaced person when they hear 'mobile phone', but a slither of hope and survival.
When we think about refugees and the fact that they are having to flee their war-torn homes, we don't often consider what goes into their escape. Technology has become an integral part of today's society and it plays a major role, even in the lives of people from third world countries, where you may not expect it.
Although some say technology is taking over the lives of today's youth, it's safe to say that technology really has become a life-line for refugees. As they map life-threatening journeys to safety and let their loved ones know that they have or haven't made it unharmed across the boarders and the vast seas, to a place where terror doesn't reign.
Mobile Phone Apps
The second largest refugee camp is in Za’atari, Jordan and the mobile phone usage here is very high. With 86% of the younger people staying in the camp owning a mobile phone in 2015.
Maps with border directions and directions in general are life-savers for many refugees as they navigate their way to foreign, but safer countries. Accessibility to apps such as maps, can literally change the direction of their lives.
Even being able to get the weather forecast has become pivotal in their survival, both during their travels, but also once they arrive in the refugee camps. 'The Jungle' as the the Calais camp was renamed last year, would be expected to be a secure place for displaced people, but with police violence and the removal of things like tents and sleeping bags, they are stripping them bare of the necessities for basic survival. Particularly in the winter when temperatures plummet it is extremely useful for them to be able to anticipate the weather so they can plan ahead.
Medical & Translation
Still, it's not just weather and maps that are crucial. Medical apps with simple symptom checkers etc. that will allow a quick diagnosis and offer medical advice are vital. As well as this, translation apps are key, by helping those who do not speak the language to communicate and get the help they need.
When refugees brave the long and life threatening trek out of their home country, they are bound to have to make decisions that no one ever wants to face. They cannot always take everyone with them, be it for money reasons, health or even pride, as some of the older generations frankly refuse to leave their home. In these situations technology is the only way of being able to communicate with their families again. Through use of social media, such as facebook, or simply text messages, they can let their loved ones know they are safe and alive.
Yet, sadly it is also often the case that people lose each other along the way or get separated as they arrive at the borders of new countries, for example Greece or France. In this case it can be incredibly difficult to find each other again, but through technology the possibility is a little higher. REFUNITE (Refugees united) is an organisation through which refugees and displaced people can reunited and reconnect with lost family all over the globe.
Empowering with Technology
There are campaigns set up to help refugees with technology. Taking for example the incredible organisation Techfugees, that "empowers the displaced with technology" by creating a tech community that responds to the desperate needs of refugees. They hold events such as their 'hackathon'. Last year, at a 'hackathon' in Jordan, where now more than a third of the population are refugees, they got together to find technology based solutions for problems within the camp. Two female Syrian refugees won by utilising crowdsourcing to identify leakages in the public water piping, which in turn addressed the problem of water shortages.
Another such organisation was launched by MIT to create a global education hub for refugees, called ReACT (Refugee ACTion Hub). This involves the development of digital learning opportunities and empowers by way of education. I think this really demonstrates how much we take everyday tasks and experiences, such as talking to our family members, having access to water and learning, for granted. But at least through these incredible corporations and charities, we have a chance to give these people a little bit of relief and hope for a better future after they have, more often than not, lost everything.
These are just a few of the organisations launched to help refugees with technology, but it really demonstrates how technology touches everything in the world today, even in areas where we may least expect it. It is easy to get lost in our day to day tasks, but just try and remember how important simple things like a mobile phone or access to the internet are to these people.
They really have nothing left to hold onto, but technology is a building block with the potential to help them re-build everything they have lost.
If you would like to get involved:
You can donate old mobile phones/chargers to Refugee Phones here.
To volunteer with Techfugees, simply click here.
Or donate to Refunite and help families re-connect here.
Article by: Lotti Dautzenberg currently interning at byAbi.
Lotti is studying English at the University of Suffolk. She's passionate about helping refugees and raising awareness of the many ways in which we can help make their lives a little bit easier. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org