15 Really Sad Things You Didn’t Know About The Syrian Refugees

Plus, the insanely effective projects the European community is taking on to fix this bullshit


About 200 tech people, startup people and concerned citizens gathered in London today to discuss what we can do to help Syrian refugees during one of Europe’s biggest crisis (#Techfugees). We all know that things are bad, but some of the following was news to us — and it might surprise you too:

  1. Most Syrian refugees are not in camps. Why? Because camps are dehumanizing, and often dirty, dangerous, and offer no opportunities for work and independence. They’d rather be anywhere else.
  2. Camps are not temporary. Average “stay” in a refugee camp is 17 years.
  3. Refugees are unwelcome in many of the cities they end up in — acknowledged only as guests, migrants or visitors — which keeps them from being able to find work, take care of themselves and support their families.
  4. Many Syrian refugees who make it to safety say they wish they had been mentally prepared to handle day-to-day decisions — such as how to negotiate with smugglers, which smugglers to avoid and which routes to take.
  5. Mapping disrupts smugglers. It puts the power of knowledge back into the hands of refugees who have access to smartphones but not to critical information that could save them time, money, and their lives.
  6. Most Syrian refugees are now in neighboring countries — Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq — where they have shrinking access to assistance. There is a massive funding gap, with only 40% of the humanitarian aid needed coming in so far.
  7. There is a risk of a lost generation of Syrian children who are living in limbo. Many will not see a classroom.
  8. Speaking of children, half of the refugees are under 16 years old :(
  9. There is an urgent need for procedures and mechanisms to maintain the integrity of the European asylum system. Europe cannot turn back any person fleeing conflict zones, but they need separate and distinct procedures to help them identify and process economic migrants who are entering the borders.
  10. Half of Syria’s pre-war population has either been injured, killed or displaced during this conflict.
  11. Refugees need specific items. Helping in an uncoordinated way (and sending old teddy bears) can be worse than not helping at all.
  12. Refugees can’t fly. Under EU law, airlines are responsible for the costs of sending back travelers without a valid visa or other travel documents. Since that can run an airline thousands of dollars per person, they won’t let anyone on board without documents — even asylum seekers. [Learn more]
  13. 1 in 10 people in Britain said they were willing to host refugees in their homes for up to 6 months — but few have been matched. Would-be hosts and refugees are registered across many organizations, matching is still currently being facilitated manually, and it’s difficult to to confirm identities.
  14. Every social worker takes care of a whopping 200–300 people. (At least in Berlin.)
  15. There’s a Middle Eastern reading crisis — 75% of Arabic speakers don’t speak a second language. That means much of the discourse the rest of the world is having is never translated and therefore never reaches them.
  16. Help doesn’t end here. There is a need for policies that protect refugee groups from being socially alienated and abused. Sustainability is vital. Think big, local and long-term.

Some notable #Techfugees tweets:

Refugees without addresses.
Words from one-time Senegalese refugeee turned social activist, @mjamme
@Maid_Marianne reminds us of the viral power of visual data
MyRefuge launches its beta at #techfugees

NOW! This is how can you help:

  • You can donate your old laptop to Refugees on Rails. It will go straight to training refugees in Berlin in Ruby on Rails. [Learn more]
  • You can put a “giving widget” on your website, app, Facebook page and more. JP Morgan, UBS and Candy Crush are already on board. It’s called Ammado. [Or you can donate here]
  • If you want to lend your skills, money or resources to the Syrian refugee crisis, consider making a profile on ThirdBridge. The platform connects volunteers with humanitarian organizations and charities who need someone like you.
  • You can register to host a refugee in your spare room on MyRefuge. The platform is in beta, and is gearing up to be a bridge between government, NGOs, refugees and citizens. (It’s also open source, so you can start one for your own country.)
  • You can start a First Contact chapter to help orient newly arrived refugees in your city. This initiative was created by members of the Startupboat.eu, and they already have templates, content as well as free consulting to help you set up.
  • You can build your own idea. Berlin-based Kiron Ventures is providing funding, office space and technical support to social entrepreneurs who are developing solutions for refugees and migration challenges.
  • You can help HackHumanity build and distribute survival packs aka OnePack. (Or get them in touch with anyone you know at Amazon, IDEO, Ikea, Android, MIT, Cambridge, Tesla, and a few others to help them get this off the ground.)

More AMAZING projects & orgs to talk to:

Hashtag Charity (Give your time and talent to high-impact tech projects — or get in touch with @franzisbecker)

Project Temp Home (AirBnB for refugees — see also Refugees Welcome)

Data Journalism Blog (If you’re a data nerd or storyteller get in touch with @Maid_Marianne)

NetHope (They’re actively looking for telecomms specialists to help bring connectivity to refugees or ANY collaboration ideas — get in touch with emergency@nethope.org)

Digital Humanitarians (They’re a pool of networks and volunteer orgs — tons of opportunities here)

German for Refugees (FREE language learning for refugees, launched by Busuu to help Arabic speakers learn German and English. Learn more at #germanforrefugees)

Refugee Aid App (It will be a single point for refugees to find information, connection and support. It will also help NGOs push out relevant information quickly to them. They’re looking for part-time devs and designers to make it happen.)

Refugee Maps (Mapping collection points, gatherings, groups and drop-off locations all over Europe so you can connect with other people who care.)


Thanks to Facebook, SkillsMatter, Wayra, BrainTree_PayPal, FieldHouse, Malwarebytes, Nesta, Tech London Advocates, The Exponential Network, Paddle, Incredibly, Skills Matter, Pavla Kopecna, Interchange and Rewired State for making this incredible event possible!

And a big thanks to Mike Butcher and his crew of volunteers for pulling this initiative together in JUST 9 DAYS.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” — Buckminster Fuller

IF YOU HAVE ADEQUATE FOOD, WATER, AND SHELTER, SHARE THIS WIDELY AND GENEROUSLY SO OTHERS MAY TOO.

Psst…See any typos, errors or omissions? Please contact me for any corrections!

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