Harnessing technology for refugees

8 Apr 2019 09:00h - 10:45h

Event report


Ms Minerva NOVERO (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP]) moderated the session. The session was dedicated to conditions refugees are in and the use of technologies for addressing their needs. Novero noted that 2019 is foreseen to be another year of crisis.

Mr William QUIVIGER (Media and Communication Division, International Organization for Migration (IOM)), presented the project ‘Migrants as Messengers’. He noted that the growing body of research showed that migrants have general distrust about traditional information campaigns and believe more to information they get from their own communities. The project has been funded by the Dutch Ministry for Security and Justice, who have published a project report in 2016 which showed campaigns on migrations had limited success. The strategy was to run a peer-to-peer platform through where migrants would tell their own stories through mobile phones which would be disseminated through different social media platforms. In addition, some refugees created their own social media profiles in order to share these stories on their own. Primary targets were potential migrants who are considering migrating and migrants who have experienced migrations and wanted to share their stories as returnees. Secondary audience is their families. He noted the important component where volunteers are migrant returnees which now work in the field with other migrants. Quiviger showed a video on which a female refugee noted that the information they got before starting their refugee journey were false and many of them have ended up on the street, misused, while some went through sexual exploitation. More than 1000 individual interviews have been conducted and published online on a dedicated Facebook page with more than 2 million views. He noted that the technology which is used for Migrants as Messengers is very simple, anyone can download the app and the idea can be used for other awareness raising initiatives related to migrants. He noted that an impact evaluation has been conducted and the final report will be published in two months, however the primary results show that the project had high awareness raising.

Ms Hanisha JAGTIANI (World Food Program [WFP]) spoke about a blockchain-based project called ‘Building Blocks’. She noted that they had challenges with the cash-based transfer, such as the transfers being slow, identity problem of refugees, and additional costs with every transaction. She said that about three million dollars in cash has been transferred to 500 thousand of beneficiaries by now. Beneficiaries get wallets which are ‘more SMS based’, while in Jordan it is biometric-based and requires IDs to be scanned, for example. Jagtiani stated that ‘When transferring via blockchain, money is stored in a way that it cannot be altered, it is safe and secured, and real-time.’ In addition, they have started working on a small pilot project with UN Women, which also looks into operating on blockchain. Jagtiani presented a ‘comparison shopping app’ which provides information on the lowest prices to beneficiaries in order to spend their money better, which also gives refugees the power of choice. Another project, called ’Impact’, provides skills education to refugees to enable them to take online freelancing jobs, to increase their self-efficiency.

Mr Peter BALLEIS (Jesuit Worldwide Learning [JWL]) spoke about using online technology to deliver education to refugees. He noted the importance of bringing universities and knowledge to the people into these communities to address root causes. They work with refugees post-conflict areas. They also work in ‘pre-conflict areas in order to, hopefully, avoid the conflict’. Refugees attend online debates in virtual classes with other refugees across the world as well as professors in different universities. Technology is important in this context, although challenges such as electricity, access, limited Internet connectivity, and distance still exist. ‘Our work starts where the Internet stops’, said Balleis. It was important to provide refugees with an opportunity to also study offline. Technology makes it possible to reach out to people and allow them to study and educate themselves. He underlined that their students also became learning facilitators and leaders. ‘It is not only about sharing devices, devices are nothing without content in digital format.’ Technology helps with education and in reaching many of sustainable development goals (SDGs). He concluded by saying that it is important to reach out to universities in these situations, because universities are often left behind.


By Aida Mahmutović