Drones for Refugees: Saving Lives in the Mediterranean
Since 2014, 10 people have died every day attempting to travel to Mediterranean countries by sea. The Drones for Refugees project wants to make the voyage safer.

The drones livestream areas heavily trafficked by refugees in the Mediterranean Sea and use infrared sensors to allow easy viewing at night. The drones run on solar batteries and use wireless internet connection, requiring little human involvement. Workers in ground stations monitor the footage on a computer or mobile device and collect information such as the number of people on a boat, the coordinates, whether the route is correct and whether there are enough life vests. In the case of an emergency, monitors quickly alert rescue crews. Newer drone prototypes carry an emergency aid package that can be released when needed. This quick response can save many lives.

The prototype was tested in Lesbos between July and August 2016. A more advanced version will debut in Sicily in the spring of 2017. Drones for Refugees is currently self-funded, but with help from investors and donors, the organization hopes to produce larger drones capable of traveling longer distances.

Project director Mehdi Salehi originally co-founded Good Drones, an innovation and design lab focused on using drones to solve social problems. Drones for Refugees is only one of the projects of the Good Drones initiative. Salehi was inspired by news footage of Syrian refugees traveling on worn-down boats in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as his own personal experiences.

In 2001, Salehi was an Afghani refugee. He and a friend traveled to Greece on a small boat. Once he arrived in Greece, Salehi was imprisoned for five months. Eventually, with the help of a Greek lawyer, he was able to receive political asylum. He went on to graduate from the University of Volos and moved to New York to attend Parson School of Design. He says about his experience, “I was very lucky. I got a lot of support from people that met me along the way, especially in Greece. They encouraged me and believed in me. Refugees and migrants, that’s what we need: an opportunity to thrive.”

For refugees, crossing the Mediterranean can be an exhausting and terrifying experience. Drones for Refugees wants to ensure that refugees are given a fighting chance to escape the violence and oppression in their home countries.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr