In September 2015, the body of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian migrant, washed up on a Turkish beach. The boy had fallen off a rubber raft provided by a smuggler who had promised the boy’s father a motorboat. As the startling images of the drowned boy spread, they prompted an outpouring of humanitarian aid—including from the tech sector, which wanted to help prevent the next Aylan from drowning. Knowing that many refugees have access to cellphones, volunteers around the world began developing apps and other tools to help guide refugees on their journeys, adding to the innovative work under way at humanitarian organizations.
The resulting technologies are already helping refugees gather crucial information, reconnect with lost relatives, and establish a legal identity in new countries. Technologies still being developed promise to take the place of translators and perhaps even nurses and doctors. Here are what some current and future tools look like.
1 | Instant Intel
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.