Refugees and Technology
Technology can play a critical role in providing humanitarian relief to refugees and improving their quality of life while in this difficult situation.
The UNHCR report «Empowering refugees through technology» highlights continuous electricity supply, reliable internet, access to smartphones, and affordable data plans as issues of fundamental importance. According to the Financial Times, refugees spent about a third of their disposable income on connectivity, and Forbes reports that communication — from contacting loved ones back home to seeking employment — is of such importance that it is commonly prioritized even above medicine and clothing.
Beyond enabling basic access to connectivity and communications, there are numerous areas where technology can make a difference, including:
Resources for refugees come from many sources, including governments, non-profits, businesses and individuals. Technology can be enormously useful for inspiring and collecting donations — for example platforms can help publicize important causes and raise millions of dollars in a short period.
Coordinating the collection, transport and delivery of resources
Tech firms offer key skills in organizing the often highly complex logistics of aid delivery, coordinating the provision of medical and other resources across the neighboring and other countries where those fleeing a conflict have sought safety.
Host and housing networks for refugees
One of the transformative powers of internet technology lies in efficiently matching the supply of resources to demand. For refugees in need of shelter, tech firms can leverage networks of homeowners to find and fund accommodation for people in desperate need, or enable individuals and families fleeing their country to meet the potential hosts who are willing to take them in.
Another area where matching technologies can have a high impact is employment. One of the most pressing problems for refugees is finding work. The UNHCR notes that «employment and economic self-reliance are essential factors in successful integration; they provide the means for economic stability and help refugees participate equally in the host society and develop solid relationships and social support networks.»
One of the most severe impacts of refugee status can be on child education. In some cases, years of learning and development can be lost amid the chaos of flight, the absence of carers, the difficulties of life in refugee camps, and the struggle to meet basic needs. Fortunately, today the internet enables access to information, courses and other educational resources. There is a direct relationship between internet quality and levels of digital and other forms of literacy.
Separation from friends and family, home and country can be a devastating experience, and even when basic needs of food, shelter and medicine are met, much more can be done to help with quality of life. For example, the availability of music, movies and other media content may be able to relieve stress and improve mental health.
There are many more ways for efficient, inventive technologies organizations to make a difference to the lives of the tens of millions of people currently displaced from their homes. If you run or work for such an organization — whether non-profit, commercial, academic or otherwise — and you want to join forces with Tech For Refugees, please get in touch here.