Technology and the Refugee Crisis
How Technology Can Provide Innovative Solutions for Refugees’ Needs
The current refugee crisis, unfortunately, is not a new struggle that the world is just now experiencing.
For centuries, there have been refugees who have been fleeing their homes, cities and countries due to various events causing near-impossible living conditions. The burdening reality continues today as more than 70 million people are currently displaced with almost 30 million of those displaced becoming refugees or asylum seekers.
Though these numbers are alarming, there is hope to be found.
The Rise of Technology
Since the beginning of the digital revolution, technological advancements have continued growing at an exponential rate. Today, there are more than 5 billion people who have mobile devices across the globe - that is more than two thirds of the population! With this permeation of technology throughout the world, this means there are more than 5 billion tools to assist in the efforts to bring peace and hope to those who are in the midst of the current refugee crisis.
Along with the progress made in mobile device placement throughout the world, technology as a whole has become, and is becoming, more advanced by the day. More intelligent computers, machine learning capabilities, improved algorithms, and the list could go on. With all of the robust technology of today and its capabilities, is it able to provide unique solutions to situations going on within the refugee crisis?
Current Network Conditions
The popular thought among many is that mobile service coverage in developing countries is extremely rare, or there is none at all to support any kind of mobile device. However, according to a 2014 study done by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), a total of 93% of worldwide refugees live in areas that are supported by a 2G network or better. This 2G network allows for text and picture messaging along with little, but some, internet access.
This study shows that there is capability to support mobile devices where refugees are living, which is very encouraging, but how many individuals actually have these devices? In a 2015 study, the UNHCR found that 71% of refugee households have either a basic or internet-capable phone, compared to the global average of 88%. They also found that the global average of owning an internet-capable phone was about two times that of refugee households. While the large majority of refugees live in areas where mobile device service is available, there are still some who are unable to attain these devices because of various barriers. Whether it is cost, lack of a network, no knowledge about phone plans, or any other obstacle, there are many who are not able to benefit from mobile devices.
Benefits of Having A Mobile Device
In contrast, refugees who own or have access to mobile phones have an abundance of possibilities at their fingertips. With the ability to communicate with separated family members, look for jobs in their current city and search for translation services, this simple technology can provide a wealth of opportunities.
Even in the realm of education, mobile devices can make a tremendous difference in the lives of young refugee children. In these extremely formative years of life, going through the hardship of no longer being able to attend school with friends can be an impacting experience. With the help of internet-capable mobile devices however, online educational resources can travel with the children and still provide a quality learning experience. Whether the online education is accessed and guided by family members, guardians, or an outside educator, this opportunity is a source of normality and consistency for the child in the midst of a challenging experience.
External Applications of Technology
Along with their direct interaction with technology, there are a number of ways refugees can benefit from external parties using advanced technologies. One great example comes from health centers using predictive analysis in situations where sickness is present. By tracking how many, and what kinds of illnesses are present in temporary refugee settlements, they can predict potential outbreaks and request the necessary treatments for the sickness before the outbreak fully develops.
Coinciding with predictive analysis, machine learning programs such as Annie MOORE can play a vital role in placing refugees into cities where they will best thrive. With Annie MOORE, placement decisions are based on previous data collections along with demographic characteristics from the refugees themselves.
After the individual provides their information, their profile will be processed by the software and the results will be computed by ranking the most hospitable cities for that individual from highest ranking to lowest. Once this ranking is completed, the agency staff will make the final decision on where the refugee will best thrive. This automated process does not occur if the individual already has family nearby. Overall, this process has shown that it can speed up the placement result process by six times and it can be 20% more effective in finding a job for the individual within the first three months.
There is also an innovative fintech platform, Everest, who is redefining what it means to carry your identity wherever you go. Instead of worrying about losing valuable paper documents or money when traveling to different countries, these items can be stored digitally.
With the help of digital platforms like Everest, refugees would be able to store their identification documents, banking, biometrics and any other certification or document in a secure blockchain (a digital security tool). This way, if a refugee needs to provide proper certification for a job interview or present food vouchers at the grocery store, this information could be easily accessed through the Everest blockchain system.
Given just these few examples of how advanced technology can play a role in a refugee’s life, it is clear to see how further developments could drastically improve the experience of millions of refugees around the globe.
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