refugees

Finding their way

IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/AFP/Getty Images

TEXTING. That’s the innovative idea that took home the top prize at a hackathon to help refugees in Paris, France, last month.

The service, conceived after a weekend brainstorming at coding school Le Wagon, would send people on the move alerts in different languages about medical and legal aid, or how to find jobs in their new home. The project has reportedly been picked up by several French non-profits, including Action Emploi Réfugiés.

Such a low-tech solution may seem odd given that many of those leaving Syria have made the dangerous journey to Europe with a smartphone in hand – navigating the route to Germany via GPS, for example, or sharing tips on social media. But as well-meaning developers and aid agencies are finding, how people use technology is as important as the tech they carry with them – and what works best may not be what we expect.

“This is the first really big population movement of people who are technologically savvy,” says Jeff Wishnie, senior director of program technology at Mercy Corps. That has led to aid agencies coming up with new ways to help.

“Westerners tend to use smartphones as portals to the internet, but refugees use them as phones“

The Paris hackathon was hosted by Techfugees, an organisation set up to find ways for the tech community to assist refugees. Since kicking off in September, Techfugees has supported events in cities around the world, including London, New York, Oslo, Venice, Belgrade and Warsaw. It has given rise to a range of …

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