Techfugees — How Technology Can Make a Difference to Refugees

Techfugees brought together London’s tech community to create responses to the refugee crisis. Techfugees was pulled together with enormous energy by Mike Butcher, Editor-at-Large of TechCrunch and was warmly embraced by the tech Community. There were lots of generous offers and donations from some major companies and organisations to support the event and Techfugees hackathon. More importantly, there were amazing examples and demonstrations of how technology can be used to make a difference during a refugees crisis, and a genuine concerted effort to support the needs of refugees.

Other Tech-Organisations Offering Solutions

Refugees face serious challenges, whether displaced by a natural disaster or war, they may lose power and communication and be displaced from their homes. Power and means of Communication are important because this is how they can contact their relatives and friends know that they are safe. When refugees get to a camp the first thing they ask for a Wi-Fi connection or a place to charge their phones. It is noted that this seems to be more important that shelter, food and water. Proper communication is vital even for the non-governmental organisations and aid agencies for administering medical aid, food and water.

These challenges have led technology companies to come up with innovative ways of bridging the communication gap and meet these challenges. The following are some of the solutions that have been introduced by technology firms to help in the refugee crisis.

Instant Hotspot

This is a portable, all-weather wireless internet and 4G mobile gadget that can support up to 150 individuals by connecting them to the web simultaneously. It contains a long lasting built-in battery for easy and quick set-up even in the most extreme conditions. Created by a Croatian firm called Meshpoint, this unit can create a local hotspot and can link to others to create a wider area network.

Mobile Mobile

Some of the major telecoms companies around the globe have been aiming to come up with portable communication devices meant for disaster regions. Vodafone, through the Vodafone Foundation, have launched the instant network mini, this is a backpack that contains a 2G mobile network and can provide coverage in a radius of 1km, and it has a small solar panel and a six-hour battery: the package weighs 11kg. This device has been used in Nepal, South Sudan and the Philippines to restore communication.

The Benefits of Techfugees and Similar Events over Traditional NGOs

Traditional NGOs could not have matched solutions that are offered by entrepreneurs and the tech community, nor could they have worked at such pace. Technology cannot solely solve such a complex situation like the refugee crisis, but it can play a significant role in the overall response. Governments across Europe should embrace technology and support these apps to make significant steps in this crisis.

The MedShr Application

MedShr was developed in London to connect doctors to discuss clinical cases for medical education through peer-to-peer learning. The MedShr app is now being used to connect doctors and healthcare workers in the field with expert or specialist opinons. Dr Asif Qasim is the founder of MedShr and has been heavily involved in Techfugees. During the Techfugees event, Dr Qasim said “It’s not about making tech people feel good about themselves, these people have left their day jobs to come and here and try to make a difference”.

The Techfugees project which started in London has gained momentum and become a global movement with events and hackathons around Europe and the USA. Whilst technology cannot resolve the underlying issues, it has become a powerful force in supporting refugees and aid organisations.

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