A recent wave of Haitian migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border was triggered by a chain of Facebook and WhatsApp messages (an app co-developed by Ukrainian immigrant Jan Koum). When migrants began to enter the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status after Hurricane Maria, they messaged their Haitian friends and family in other countries. This group also messaged other friends and family, leading to roughly 17,000 Haitians migrating to the bordertown of Tijuana seeking asylum.
Migrants are using technology to tap into new networks while staying in touch with loved ones as they flee severe droughts drying up Sub-Saharan Africa, hurricanes flooding Haiti, and melting ice sheets sinking the Maldives. With the number of environmental migrants estimated to reach between 25 million-1 billion by 2050 and more than half the world’s population now using the internet, social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp are becoming essential to people migrating across borders and continents.
According to a study from the Netherlands, people consult social media to gather information before leaving their country of origin. While on the move, migrants use smartphones to map routes, find places to stay, and document their experience. Once they have arrived at their destination, migrants use messaging apps to communicate with family and friends back home, inform others en route and to form new connections in their new cities.
Catching onto this social media trend, tech entrepreneurs are partnering with local and national governments and NGOs to develop tech-based solutions that aim to ease the process of migration.
Below, we have gathered a collection of innovative projects developed to help migrants stay connected around the world:
Miksaliste, a humanitarian group and refugee aid station in Serbia, has set up a free wifi network that redirects people to a page listing the correct cost of taxis, public restrooms and other useful information.
Refugee.Info’s website, blog and social media presence provides refugees with information on conditions, legal procedures and integration in five European countries including, Italy, Hungary and Greece. The sites are translated into English, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and French and the team that runs the project is made up of nearly 60 percent asylum seekers and refugees.
To make use of smartphones that are most likely collecting dust in a junk drawer, GeeCycle started collecting used smartphones mailed in by people from around the world and distributes them to refugees fleeing conflict on the Greek Island of Samos.
In response to the refugee crisis, the U.K. tech community came together to create TechFugees. The group of engineers, entrepreneurs and startups are using hackathons to develop new technologies to help refugees.
Refugees Welcome International is an apartment-sharing website that helps refugees move out of camps and into more permanent housing. The website connects refugees with people who are willing to offer up a spare room in their apartment. Refugees Welcome International has helped house refugees in 16 countries, including Canada, Japan and Spain.