Information technologies and the refugee crisis
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?
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?
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