The Tech Turn in Refugee Protection and Integration: New Solutions or Hot Air?
Blair Levin, Senior Nonresident Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Project, Brookings Institution; and Executive Director of U.S. National Broadband Plan (2009-10)
Meghan Benton, Senior Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute
Rosa Akbari, Senior Advisor, Technology for Development, Mercy Corps
Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan, Associate Director, International Program, MPI
Smartphones have become unlikely symbols of the global refugee crisis: selfies of refugees in harrowing situations abound on social media, people in conflict call for help on Skype or What’s App, and mapping and GPS technology have sometimes acted as a literal lifeline.
Seeing an opportunity, numerous tech startups and social entrepreneurs have designed apps and tech tools to protect refugees along their journeys and help them settle in. The last few years have seen hundreds of “civic tech” initiatives emerge in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. But dozens of hackathons, hundreds of prototypes, and countless newspaper column inches later—has all this energy and enthusiasm actually made a difference to refugee lives?
In addition to all the energy abounding in the tech sector for a tech-based solution to the current refugee crisis, more traditional stakeholders in the global protection system—such as national governments and NGO actors—have also made a major shift towards integrating technology into their protection strategy. Notably, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has set a goal of ensuring that “all refugees, and the communities that host them, are connected to mobile networks and the Internet so that they can leverage these technologies to improve their lives."
This MPI webinar explores the recent “tech turn” in refugee protection and integration, and considers whether it is likely to make a lasting impact. Speakers discuss the most promising innovations and their broader implications for policymakers. They discuss the challenges and opportunities for governments, as they seek to work with new actors such as tech companies. And they look beyond apps, to discuss the broader digital infrastructure needs of refugee camps and services—including the crucial issue of Internet connectivity for refugees.
The discussion highlighted findings and recommendations from these two reports: A Global Broadband Plan for Refugees and Digital Humanitarianism: How Tech Entrepreneurs Are Supporting Refugee Integration.