Information technologies and the refugee crisis


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The pictures of refugees arriving on European sole and using their selfie-sticks to capture this memorable moment have been a point of criticism and confusion amongst Europeans. The last comparable refugee crisis was in 1945, right after the Second World War. Though the context is similar, the technologies could not be more different. Therefore, reactions to the refugee crisis need to be adapted to the information age, which requires new experts, new strategies, and a new mindset: Instead of criticizing, we should rather look at how these technological changes within our societies can help us solve the crisis.

Like in 1945, the refugees are travelling from one city or country to the next, hoping to find a home and waiting for the ideal circumstances to settle down and start their new life. Though this has not changed, their methods have: WhatsApp, Viber and Skype are used to keep in touch with their families abroad. Google Maps allows them to find a route, which does not require people-traffickers. Foreign-currency-conversion calculators help them to avoid being ripped off by local services. These applications have become essential surviving tools for refugees. Moreover, social media are used by traffickers to advertise their services like any other legal travel agency and Facebook groups like ‘How to emigrate to Europe’ with 39,304 members play significant roles in the refugee crisis. The ease and autonomy these applications provide for refugees and traffickers illustrate a totally new and revolutionary aspect to the smuggling business. Because, that is what you can call it… A business.

Digging into this point of view and attempting to analyze the current situation with existing knowledge and theories in the travel industry, one could argue that the refugees are the demand-side while human traffickers and aid organizations are the supply-side. Consequently, the refugees are the consumers of services provided by either traffickers, governments or aid workers. The competition between illegal traffickers, who are focused on financial profits, and aid organizations, which are focused on the well being of the refugees, makes it an interesting battle. As for all industries, the winner is determined by its competitive advantage and the ability to match supply to demand. So, how can this be applied to the refugee crisis?

Figure 1:

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In Belgrade, aid workers have already developed an application called “Miksaliste”, which provides refugees with accurate information about services and their costs. Other applications such as “Gherbetna” (Figure 1), which assists the refugees in filling out government forms or “Duburah”, which helps them to find jobs, facilitates the integration of refugees into European countries and consequently simplifies the governments’ tasks concerning the provision of information, procedures and rules and eliminates the need for traffickers.

These examples illustrate how new technologies allow aid workers to help refugees. However, this can also be turned around. The Internet and GPS tracking systems on refugees’ smartphones may allow aid workers to predict the location of refugees and thus forecast the peaks and lows at various refugee camps. At the moment, governments struggle to allocate the refugees and experience extreme peaks, making them incapable to supply enough space and food. Based on the theory of adaptive learning based on the article by Li & Kauffman (2012), we learn that the allocated capacity may change over time but based on new information, the aid workers and governments can react appropriately. Moreover, this information can be passed to the refugees through social media, guiding them to safe and available places in refugee camps.

In conclusion, new information technologies and theories can be used to develop a thorough understanding of the refugees, their locations and their routes, leading to a more organized cooperation between governments to spread refugees evenly throughout countries.

Do you have more ideas on how new information technologies can contribute to a solution of the refugee crisis? Have you hear of other technologies that have become popular for refugees to use when arriving in Europe? How do you think governments should use the technologies to come to agreements or prevent illegal immigrants?

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Sources:

http://uk.businessinsider.com/refugee-crisis-how-syrian-migrants-use-smartphones-avoid-traffickers-2015-9

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/world/europe/a-21st-century-migrants-checklist-water-shelter-smartphone.html?_r=0

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28137-tech-helps-refugees-make-journey-and-survive-when-they-arrive/

Li & Kauffman (2012). Adaptive learning in service operations. Decisions support systems (53), pp. 306-319. doi:10.1016/j.dss.2012.01.011

Author: Florianne Griffioen, 355919fg

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4 responses to “Information technologies and the refugee crisis”

  1. gabriellapimpao says :

    I really love how just connected technology with and issue that is so much present today. As a curiosity here is another app developed by Hungarian aid workers, with the same purpose as the one you discuss in your blog post https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.migrationaid.infoaid. It is not just the refugees who’s means of communication changed but also the aid workers, I know several of them from Hungarian and they organise their work almost completely through Facebook.
    But coming back to the point that you raised about how we could use technology to support migrants: apart from tracking the route of refugees and predicting waves of people, we could also use tech to help them start their new life in Europe with creating a simple database where migrant could subscribe and specify their background/expertise etc and match it with vacant jobs or professions that have lack of many power in certain European countries.
    But unfortunately there is one part of the question which I think is not technical but political: until there is no agreement on how to deal with the current situation or consensus will to support these people all new initiatives are just a drop in the ocean.

  2. 357272rd - Roeland Diks says :

    This is an interesting perspective where technology is applied for aiding purposes on a current social problem where one can speak of serious disruption of the so-called ‘business’.

    A worrying (side) effect came to my mind while reading this article concerning the eco-system of people-traffickers in this new technological age.

    People-traffickers are indeed in a disadvantage during this new technological age, because refugees have access to Google Maps and messaging apps that lower the need for ‘assistance’. But I figured that the increased transparency that these technologies bring along can be used in the advantage of a specific group of people-traffickers as well.

    In order to sustain their business, the trafficking ‘service-level’ requires to be hire than ever before. By means of social platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp instant feedback is provided after having received their ‘service’. This causes, I believe, weak players to go out-of-business and strong players to receive an exponential growth in demand as they go ‘viral’.

    This is a worrying effect in my opinion, as it allows strong and resourceful players to demand higher margins and to strengthen their power and reach, enabling them to become equal to a large intercontinental organisation. This cannot happen..

    • christiandewit says :

      Interesting article Florianne. Next to navigating their route through Europe refugees nowadays also use their phones to alert the coast guard when their boat is sinking and send their location so they can be picked up. Due to the policy that the European Union implemented all refugees that are in need of help while trying to cross the sea, have to be helped. So their smartphone is a life-saving tool in that sense as well.

      On the other hand I think that indeed the government and aid workers are able to use this technology to enhance the help we can provide. Allocating refugees, provide them with information where they have to go and helping them go through certain procedures benefit the aid-workers as well as the refugees.

      Which BIM student is going to be the first one to write a business case for this?

  3. 440006hk says :

    I think there are a lot of possibilities how technology could improve the current asylum seeker issue.
    In DBA we discussed this topic for the Business Case: Our solution was focusing on the issue that a lot of asylum seekers are coming to Europe, but Europe has not enough capacity to provide a save and appropriate shelter. At the same time a lot of the asylum seekers don´t get refugee status, as they are economic refugees from – so called- safe countries. The latter ones are coming with a lot of hope and often wrong promises, and have no chance for approval (e.g. in Germany 99% of asylum seekers from Albania are denied). And at the same time they occupy space for asylum seekers with more suitable claims.
    Therefore, we suggest an application that calculates the chances for a positive refugee approval. It should enable the asylum seekers to insert their reasons and details even before they escape from their country. On the one side, this gives asylum seeker with a very positive result a better perspective as they can be much more sure that their case will have a positive result. On the other side, it should prevent asylum seekers with no chance for refugee approval from taking a costly and dangerous trip to Europe, which most properly won´t have a positive ending.
    This application can be further expanded in the future, for example:
    – Geo-tracking of refugee
    – Paperless travel, as all data is online
    – Pre-allocation of refugee according to religion, language, job, etc.

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