This App Helps Refugees Get Bank Accounts By Giving Them A Digital Identity

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If you move to Berlin, you need a bank account to rent an apartment, sign a contract for a mobile phone, or deposit a paycheck. But for refugees and asylum seekers–who typically don’t have the ID cards that most banks require–it can be nearly impossible to get an account.

A new startup called Taqanu is designing an alternative. Instead of asking for standard identification, it uses something that almost all refugees do have: a smartphone. An app installed on a phone can track someone’s digital data, including social networking, to prove their identity. Users will also create a “reputation network,” asking friends and family to vouch that someone is who they say they are. The app also asks refugees to upload photos of any documents they have, such as papers from a refugee camp in Greece. As the app is used, it continues to collect more evidence of someone’s identity.

How teachers use mobile phones as education tools in refugee camps

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Through long-term research in Dadaab, we found that students use Facebook groups to get feedback on their school essays as well as to interact with peers who can help them face challenges, like being the first girl in their family to go to school. Teachers, too, are using phones as teaching tools. One refugee teacher in Kakuma told us, “I actually use my phone when I am making class presentations… When it happens that a student asks me a very difficult question that I cannot answer, I will even pretend that I am [going] out for a short call or am going to handle any problem in the office, then I can use my phone to google [the answer].”

We asked teachers of refugees in Kenya who they communicate with using their mobile phones. Many have formed instant messaging groups with their peers to discuss teaching challenges and topics covered in their professional development programs. These groups are not initiated by programs, but by the teachers themselves, usually using Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.  As one teacher explained, “Around my area, I have a group of friends and also some of my colleagues who are working under [a teacher training] program too, and we have developed a WhatsApp group where we discuss issues concerning teaching. Like if we have a problem in school, we can discuss it and find a solution before we take it forward to our line supervisor or the community mobilizer.”

Google Maps is putting Europe’s human-traffickers out of business

europe refugee migrant crisis

Excerpt from this article, via @whatleydude:

Unlike previous crises, however, refugees aren’t making the journey blind. Smartphones are ubiquitous among the crowds, aid workers say — empowering migrants to make smarter decisions and transforming the way that aid is delivered to them.

Srba Jovanovic, an aid worker for a coalition of charities in Serbia called Refugee Aid Serbia, told Business Insider that nearly every young male refugee he sees has one. The devices provide a lifeline for people to their families and friends — apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype are all widely used, and they allow them to avoid the prohibitively high costs of making traditional phone calls across borders.

Google Maps is another very popular app. It means refugees are able to make their own way like never before, without having to rely on the high prices and often horrendous conditions offered by people-traffickers. Foreign-currency-conversion calculators are another popular choice, helping people to avoid getting ripped off as they cross borders and currency areas.

For Refugees, a Digital Passage to Europe

Stranded migrants charge their phones on a field with electricity provided by a generator at the Greek-Macedonian border near the Greek village of Idomeni, November 24, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

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While many of us might feel we cannot live without the Internet or our cell phones, for refugees access to digital technologies can be a matter of life or death.

Numerous media reports have highlighted how smartphones are essential and vital for refugees as they travel along perilous routes, contact lost family members, or find safe places before dark.

But focusing on one technology misses the bigger picture. Social media, mobile apps, online maps, instant messaging, translation websites, wire money transfers, cell phone charging stations, and Wi-Fi hotspots have created a new infrastructure for movement as critical as roads or railways.

Together, these technologies make up a digital passage that is accelerating the massive flow of people from places like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to Greece, Germany, and Norway. The tools that underpin this passage provide many benefits, yet are also used to exploit refugees and raise questions about surveillance.

Governments and refugee agencies need to establish trust when collecting data from refugees. Technology companies should acknowledge their platforms are used by refugees and smugglers alike and create better user safety measures.

As governments and leaders coordinate a response to the crisis, appropriate safeguards around data and technology need to be put in place to ensure the digital passage is safe and secure.