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Surprising Ways Smartphones are Helping Refugees


Smartphones can go a long way in helping refugees to stay safe, connected and assimilate into new communities.

According to research conducted by Penn State University, about 86 percent of young Syrian refugees at Zaatari Camp of Jordan own cell phones and more than half access the Internet daily.

During dangerous and long journeys, the luxury of smartphones helps ensure safety by keeping refugees connected with their family members. In addition, something as simple as taking and sharing photos helps to maintain a sense of community.

Navigation applications like Google Maps have also drastically changed the scene by helping refugees to travel without a heavy dependence on guides. When they do need to hire guides, information and reviews on social networking services including Facebook and WhatsApp ensure quality of service and prevent trafficking related crimes.

Some applications specifically target refugees and their needs. Google’s Crisis Info Hub lists travel information for those entering Europe through the island of Lesbos, with hotline Red Cross contacts and lodgings.

Gherbtna (“exile” or “loneliness” in Arabic), developed by Mojahed Akil who is himself a Syrian refugee, provides resettlement advice and guidelines. On the other side of the border, countries accommodating refugees have established similar information services such as Germany’s Refugee Welcome.

Another way that smartphone use is helping refugees is through increased accessibility to educational tools. In a situation where access to a formal education is near impossible, the Internet provides ubiquitous access to educational material.

The Guardian notes that there are “more than 80,000 education apps in Apple’s App Store, ranging from phonics to physics.”

The nonprofit organization Aiim develops education apps for refugees between the ages of 12 and 16 that are available offline, even in areas without Internet connection. The organization hopes to reach 10,000 Syrian refugees  by the end of next year through pilot programs in Jordan and Lebanon.

Haena Chu

Photo: Flickr