Today there are 70 million forcibly displaced people in the world, many of whom have lost contact with family members or friends. Refunite connects refugees with their lost loved ones. With more than one million people registered for the program, the app has reunited over 40,000 family members. Using six different languages, the app allows users to voice who they are searching for and connect with other users who may have answers. Refunite is free of charge and available in 17 countries.
Nina Kov, a choreographer who researches the intersection of dance and technology, was in Budapest in the summer of 2015 as migrants streamed into the city’s train stations. Kov and her husband saw a need for reliable and up-to-date information on everything from train schedules to the safety of tap water. They developed an app, which they called InfoAid, to give this kind of guidance, including warnings to avoid smugglers. The app used very little network data, meaning it was convenient for people on restricted data plans, and was available in several languages. InfoAid has been tested in the real world: During the peak of the crisis in Budapest, when the city faced an influx of thousands of migrants, it maintained an online translation chat room, staffed by volunteers. Translating refugees’ questions is time-consuming and relies on attracting qualified volunteers—“Arabic is very specific,” Kov says—and in the absence of funding, InfoAid has become inactive; Kov hopes to get it back up and running soon.
Refugees often need immediate medical attention and can’t get it. In Oslo, the creators of an app called HealthIntelligence hope to work with local governments and health organizations to build a chatbot that provides pregnant refugees with medical, legal, and other advice in their native language. “Just getting to the hospital can be very hard if you don’t speak the language and have limited legal rights,” says Vincent Olislagers, who oversaw the design of the app.
The difficulties are magnified for refugees in remote camps. Basil Leaf Technologies has been at work on DxtER, an app that will come with a small tool kit and use AI to guide patients through a questionnaire, collect vital signs and bodily-fluid samples, and diagnose dozens of health conditions on the spot. Via remote programming, the app will be able to continuously incorporate new data on emerging outbreaks.
Biometric Identity Management System
Refugees who want to establish a legal identity in a new country confront countless obstacles—they may have fled without their birth certificate, for instance, if they ever had one. So the UNHCR Biometric Identity Management System, active in 25 countries, collects fingerprints, iris scans, and photographs, and can link them to citizenship records and dates of birth.
Biometric identification tools could also help refugees receive financial assistance from nonprofit organizations, according to Rosa Akbari, a senior adviser in Mercy Corps’s Technology for Development division. Iris scanning and fingerprinting, for example, can already be used to verify whether someone is eligible for aid.
The Welcome Card
In 2015, Sweden received 162877 asylum applications, a 300% increase since 2013.The massive increase in refugees in Europe has created a strain on both local societies and government authorities, prolonging the waiting times for residence permits and asylum. The Welcome card is a digital platform one could use to navigate their own asylum process from the palm of their hand. The platform provides asylum seekers with a temporary identification card that gives them early access to local activities and public services such as transportation and language classes.
The list of challenges refugees face are endless. In a time when the world is quite literally at our fingertips, the turmoil migrant families are put through should be less than it is. These innovative technology platforms work best if immigration-policy experts, government officials, and tech creators all work in collaboration to ensure migrants are given access to sophisticated new tools.