In a time when people are fleeing their country to find a safer home, we are seeing more than ever a gap between two worlds. Culture, language, religion. But who, or what, can narrow this gap and make life easier for Syrian refugees?
Technology is proving to be invaluable to refugees on their journey to a better life. Yet there are questions from the general public who are surprised about refugees having smartphones.
Owning a smartphone does not mean you are incapable of dying in a civil war. Instead it is one of the most useful tools you can possess. Refugees are using technology to arm themselves with all the information needed to make this treacherous journey.
To a refugee, a smartphone means access to maps, GPS information and a community of people who have taken the passage before them. Some news agencies are reporting that the top search terms coming out of Syria include ‘immigration’, ‘asylum’ and ‘maps of Europe in Arabic’.
A mobile phone and charging accessories appear to be among the most popular items packed when leaving Syria. Charging stations are lifelines at stops along the way. Not having a phone means being reliant upon others and having limited access to information.
Smartphone apps are being used to communicate with family back home to let them know of a refugee’s safety or inform them of their progress. There has even been reports of refugees in sinking boats in the Mediterranean using their phones to alert coastguards.
When these refugees arrive in new countries, social media is being used to activate and mobilise an army of volunteers who want to help. Volunteers are able to request additional manpower and send updated donation requests instantly through social media networks. Call outs on Facebook and Twitter mean that volunteers can get what they need the same day, providing a higher level of comfort and confidence. This is especially important as the weather turns cooler in Europe.
In Austria, social media was also used to seek translators. For those who do not speak the language of their new country, translators can become a lifeline. Having someone who is able to understand your needs can make a world of difference when you are a thousands of miles from home.
Even without translators, smartphones allow for simple translations and help to improve communication flow. Mobile phone apps, Google translate and even simple internet image searches help both parties to better understand each other.
The Austrian government has recognized that with the increase in immigration there comes a need for increased language education and has jumped on the technology bandwagon. The government is developing a new smartphone app to help foreign children learn German and is due to be released in late October.
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