+ Tech without borders
DoNotPay, an app dubbed “the world’s first robot lawyer” by its developer, Joshua Browder, has been helping refugees in the United States and Canada to complete immigration applications. It's a chatbot - a computer program that carries out conversations through texts or vocal commands - and it uses Facebook Messenger to gather information about a case before spitting out advice and legal documents.
There’s also the International Organization for Migration’s MigApp, which fills in the blanks on topics ranging from money transfer to visa rules around the world. Signpost, a portfolio of online tools, was launched in 2015 as a collaboration between the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps. According to its developers, one of its tools, Refugee.info, delivers reliable information in five languages and reaches 70 per cent of some 500,000 refugees in Greece, and in total has reached one million people in Greece, Italy, Jordan and El Salvador.
RefAid, which connects refugees with services, is used by more than 400 aid organizations, from the Red Cross to Save the Children; and aptly named Techfugees invites individuals and organizations to share tech solutions, including ways to fight xenophobia online.
Digital solutions are quickly filling the information vacuum plaguing the thousands of people around the world who have been displaced.
In Roraima, a state on the Brazil-Venezuela border, researchers at non-profit think tank Igarapé Institute met migrants who had sold their phones to finance their journeys. When they did have phones, they were usually simple, with minimal data storage, and often shared.
While some refugee camps and shelters provide dedicated wi-fi spaces, only a handful of migrants can gain access to them at once. Pacaraima, the town in Roraima where most Venezuelan migrants land, has had a 4G connection for about a year, but it is not enough to meet demand.
To make the new tech platforms more secure, sponsors can take steps to collect data only at aggregate levels and to ensure the integrity and safety of this data. Fake news can be controlled by watch-dogging information uploaded to a site.
After conducting interviews and focus groups with migrants, Igarapé went back to the drawing board. The result is a free phone app, called OKA, that does not require wi-fi access once it is downloaded.
The tool, funded initially by the international charity Porticus, is available in Portuguese, Spanish and French and will soon be available in English. It offers information on Brazil’s federal public services — spanning housing, schools, health care, social and legal assistance, jobs and disaster response and preparedness —and more local services in Rio de Janeiro and in Boa Vista, Roraima, writes Adriana Erthal Abdenur and Lycia Brasil on PassBlue.