There will be more than one million refugees from conflict zones such as Myanmar, Syria, Sudan and Iraq this year. Although these refugees are often faced with a closed world, they can also provide economic opportunities and cultural enrichment for countries that accept them. Some refugees integrate well in regional Australia while others face major challenges in the capital.
We are concerned researchers and we are interested to see how information technology could be used to help refugees resettle. Working with refugee organizations has taught us that it is crucial to have timely information about Australian life.
We are in the initial stages of creating a digital ecosystem that aggregates and provides this information to refugees and all those involved in caring for, supporting, training, and employing them. We’ve reviewed similar experiences in Germany to guide our work and not reinvent the wheel. Germany has a large refugee population.
Information Refugees Chaos
There are many international and national agencies that offer assistance to refugees in Germany. Each agency has its own regulations and responsibilities. Accessing basic services such as internet, money transfer and schooling presents a challenge for people already traumatized.
Asylum counsellors, youth welfare officers, local non-governmental organisations, volunteers, and others are given the information that refugees require. Sometimes, the information becomes outdated quickly.
It is hard to find the right information quickly due to language barriers, geographical problems and multiple information sources. This encourages refugees to seek out information from others who arrived earlier, which can lead to misinterpretation and outdated information.
Mobile phones Refugees
This refugee crisis is different from previous ones because of the widespread availability of information technology. Many mobile initiatives exist to help refugees who have access to their smartphones.
Hackathon volunteers from Germany created Moin, a mobile guide for refugees. Also, a tool to help refugees with administrative processes known as bureaucrazy. These apps were difficult to maintain, and required volunteers to do so for a long time.
Some initiatives, however, have achieved sustainable results by eliminating the need to update third parties. These apps instead allow information providers to update their information.
The Integreat project, for example, is a mobile app that allows refugees to access information in their home country. It offers information about the asylum process, contact details and other aspects of daily living. Integreat’s information is maintain by the municipality and local non-governmental organizations via a content management system that can accessed through web browsers.
Its modular design allows it to be easily extend to other cities, which can reuse existing content and translate into other languages. This makes it easier to collect and maintain the relevant information. It is a useful addition to asylum programs.
Matchmaking Between Housing And Employment
Integreat is a program that can assist refugee in their first months in a host country. However, it becomes more difficult when refugee attempt to move to permanent housing.
German language barriers, high demand among locals for apartments, and resistance from property owners who do not want to rent to refugee have made it difficult to find accommodation. German municipalities made significant efforts to accommodate refugees by directly contacting landlords.
Sometimes property owners want to help refugee but don’t know how. A digital platform that connects property owners and refugees, such as the Berlin-based digital platform Fluchtlinge-Willkommen (Refugee Welcome), could help alleviate such problems.
Similar matchmaking services were created to help German employers find qualify workers with refugee looking for work. Workeer is an initiative that is available in Germany. Refugeetalent in Australia is a similar one.