International Affairs Migration Refugees

Technology To Help a Refugee System That Can Be Failing

Although the United Nation Human Rights Convention enforces international organizations and governments to fully protect refugees and help in their settlement, a lot of the refugees find themselves in unsettling and waiting situations. Because they are waiting for their asylum status to be processed, or working on attaining a level of English high enough to find a job, they lose time and energy. Their resources are almost put to waste because the countries welcoming them do not recognize their past experiences. As Alexander Betts pointed out in a recent TedTalk, Our Refugee System is Failing. Here is How We Can Fix It, “We lament labor shortages, and yet we exclude people who fit our economic and demographic needs from coming to Europe…the refugees get stuck in an almost indefinite limbo”.

Alexander Betts then explains that there are four ways to change the situation to update the ways we think about the refugee issue and to take advantage of the opportunities of globalization, mobility and markets. That is, the idea of enabling environments and economic zones, increasing preference matching between states and refugees, and administering more humanitarian visas.

The city of Berlin has come up with a new strategy, focused on the idea of technology. For instance, on February 21st, a social entrepreneur, Anne Kjaer Riechert, opened a school to teach coding after she met an Iraqi developer in a refugee camp who hadn’t had the chance to touch at a computer in two years because he was waiting for his asylum process to be completed. The school, named ReDI School of Digital Integration, will be based in seven different places in the city, known as incubation centers, enabling to offer coding and mentoring sessions to the refugees as a way to wait for the finalization of asylum claims.

Furthermore, technology is helping to deliver aid to refugees in the form of registration with biometric verification, smartcard-based aid, smart device data collection, mobile communications and telemedicine. Indeed, the use of IRISScan speeds up the process of registration. Any refugee needs to register through the UNHCR database in order to be recognized as such and receive aid in the form of shelter, food, healthcare and education. In addition, technology is useful to remind refugees of doctors’ appointments, health checks, and vaccination requirements, or to provide video calls for medical consultations in camps or other places. Finally, smartphones are crucial for the refugees to find solace and contact each other in their state of transit and loss of safety. Smartphones enable them to find a place to sleep, translate foreign languages, communicate with foreigners and loved ones, and the like.

To assist refugees to the most efficient degree of our digital age, at a time when authorities prove to not be so cooperative by confiscating cellphones at borders for instance, a few organizations were created, like the school in Berlin, and a conference occurred in London. These initiatives matter to ensure that the refugees do not end up in a state of infinite limbo. One of the ideas was to create an app, ‘GeeCycle’, to engage people to donate cellphones to refugees. ‘Trace the Face’ from the Red Cross involves uploading photos to locate missing family members, ‘Refugees Welcome’ uses Airbnb to match refugees with people offering a place to stay in Germany, or ‘’ to provide ups-to-date, location-specific logistical info on housing, authorities and social services. Providing better mobile networks ensures to keep refugees off smuggling services, labor trafficking, and the like, as it is easy to publish fake advertisements.

Germany has accomplished a lot in terms of thinking about technology for refugees to provide a smooth resettlement and it is time to expand this thinking globally. With better resettlement, there is a lesser risk of chaos, statelesness and general violence. There is lesser risk of children left on the shore.