Digital solutions for the refugee crisis

Alexander Lange is a 2015 Delegate Speaker in the Human Rights Plenary Session. He is actively engaged in the local refugee integration initiatives and tries to provide them with digital solutions that help them in their work.

We can solve the refugee crisis - if we're smart about it.

In Germany, we have all the resources we need to overcome the current refugee crisis, but we need to allocate and use them more efficiently.

There are almost 60 million refugees worldwide. Every day, more than 40,000 people are leaving their homes to find a new, secure place where they don’t have to face terror and poverty. For many, Europe and oftentimes Germany is their desired destination. They risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea and travel on foot, by bus, or on trains, and face many obstacles on their way just to live in peace.

More than one million refugees are coming into Germany this year. We are a strong economy and other countries like Turkey are taking in even more refugees. Yet, this may be the biggest challenge we have been facing since the German union. But this is also an opportunity and many Germans are aware that this is a crucial moment in our history. How we cope with this situation will affect how future generations will think about our people in the 21st century.

In my opinion, we have everything we need to face this challenge. We have so many people that are willing to spend time and money to help refugees.  People are donating more than ever before. Last week, there was a donation marathon in my hometown of Cologne, and the volunteers are estimating that it will take their team of 50 people weeks just to sort the donations.

But the volunteers are working on their limits. The people at the borders say they can't go on like this for long. Every day more people in worse conditions are entering the country and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. And winter is coming.

I believe the only way we will be able to keep the situation stable and help these people in need is by using our resources more efficiently.  Right now, the situation is chaotic. Helpers are overwhelmed by the amount of refugees and the fact that they have no experience in how to cope with situations like this. There is almost no guidance and they have no tools to assist them.

But the tools exist. I've attended seminars on the topic in London and Berlin and learned about great apps that are free to use and could have a tremendous impact in helping refugees. There are apps like myrefuge.com on which locals can offer refugees accommodation. Helpmatcher helps to sort and distribute donations. On Wefugee refugees can post questions and a community of helpers answers them. Save me enables locals to meet refugees and organization private events to welcome them. And Kiron University offers scholarships to refugees so they can be integrated in the local education system.

There are many more examples like this. What I find very frustrating is that too few people that would need these solutions know about them. In London and Berlin many similar projects were developed independently from each other. Not because everyone wants to do their own thing, but because they simply didn't know that someone else was also working on a similar solution. So much of the problem is due to lack of transparency and chaos, leaving many without an understanding of what is still needed to find a solution.

There are two things I want to do about this chaos. First, I proposed to my employer, Telefonica Germany, that they should get more involved. They agreed to support non-profit teams with funding and mentoring. We will help to make their tools visible where they are needed most, e.g. in the refugee camps. They will be able to work at the Migration Hub in Berlin, where they can connect to others working in this field. And we will support them on their way to become a sustainable social business.

Second, I will assist the founders of the Migration Hub in Berlin in starting a new non-profit Organization: Overboarders. Our mission will be to reduce the current chaos and connect the different stakeholders of the refugee crisis with each other. Developers with investors, solutions with helpers and locals with refugees. If we succeed in allocating all the existent resources efficiently, Germany and Europe will be one step closer to integrating the refugees into society.