The migrant crisis has reached proportions that the world has not witnessed in years. From the decade-long Syrian displacement; to the Europe-bound boats that reach the Mediterranean coast after sailing the deadliest migrant sea-route on the planet; and, more recently, the United States southern border debacle, with the arrival of thousands of asylum seekers and their families. Around the world, people escaping from poverty, violence, and war have had to flee their homes, often leaving everything behind.
According to recent statistics from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are currently more than 68 million forcibly-displaced people, of which 25.4 million are refugees. Even though resettlement programs are in place in many countries, the reality these people face in their pursuit of a new life is anything but easy. Thanks to technology, however, change might be on the way.
Nowadays, governments and aid agencies have improved their management and communications thanks to state-of-the-art systems. Not to mention the benefits that the internet has brought to the fundraising process in terms of efficiency and reach, through crowdfunding websites, and donation tools on social media platforms, such as Facebook. The impact of technology doesn’t stop there. With its diverse applications, relief is provided in other ways such as giving a voice to the voiceless.
In June, users could tune in and get a glimpse of the life of a refugee from an entirely new angle thanks to TEDxKakumaCamp. The initiative was launched by the online media organization TED Conferences – widely known for its events and videos that reach millions of viewers. Speakers included current and former refugees from the Kakuma Camp, as well as academics, professors, artists, and activists. Most importantly, it was the first talk coming from a tent inside a refugee camp itself. The event’s theme, Thrive, focused not on the negative sentiment associated with refugees, but on stories of resilience, community, and collaboration -supporting the organization’s belief that “empowered refugees can shape a peaceful and tolerant future of our world”.
A similar project had been developed by the United Nations in 2015, and has allowed people from all over the world to literally see through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl living in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, which hosts more than 100,000 Syrians who have been forced to flee the war. The project Clouds Over Sidra is based on Virtual Reality and video footage, allowing users to experience a day inside the camp, and aims to generate empathy and new perspectives on those living in vulnerable conditions. Since its release, it has been translated into 15 different languages and has been screened in 40 different countries.
VR is not the only technology used in this refugee camp. Since 2017, Za’atari has become a model for other similar resettlement structures thanks to its advanced use of blockchain technology for humanitarian aid. Building Blocks is the system developed by the World Food Program that helps the organization distribute cash-for-food aid to refugees in Jordan, aiming to cover half a million refugees in the country by the end of 2018. This groundbreaking idea was born out of the need to save money – by avoiding unnecessary transaction fees that could’ve gone into feeding those in need – but transcended into a sophisticated system that is giving back a digital identity to its beneficiaries. With Building Blocks, refugees access the UN database, connected to blockchain, through iris scanning, and participate in daily activities such as grocery shopping in a seamless manner and without physical currency. The hope is that someday, this technology will be widespread enough so that governments, banks, and businesses integrate it to their models, allowing refugees everywhere to have a regular participation in the economy.
This same goal is shared by a start-up that created a mobile app to provide assistance and opportunities to newly arrived migrants in Italy, a country that has become a focal point for the European crisis. Born out of the need to tackle a lack of information, engagement, and opportunities, Mygrants helps people join a community that provides guidance in the asylum system, training for specific skills, and the possibility of applying them by finding support to engage in economic activities.
These are just some of the examples that show how the immense power of technology can be harnessed to solve the most pressing social issues we’re currently facing. It will be interesting to see what comes next, and the applications for good-doing of an industry that moves faster than ever.