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Refugee crisis

Development meets developers: Study shows refugees’ technology usage behaviour for the first time


The Parlamentary Secretary of State Thomas Silberhorn with Ben Mason from betterplace lab, one of the authors of the study ICT4Refugees as well as Kilian Kleinschmidt from the Innovation and Planning Agency and Mike Butcher, Techfugees

Press release of 31.05.2016 |

Berlin – How can digitalisation help in tackling the refugee crisis? For the first time a study, on behalf of BMZ, has investigated the technology usage behaviour of refugees, with the goal of developing future digital solutions that fit their needs. The result: many refugees own smartphones, but use these almost exclusively for peer-to-peer communication with relatives, friends and acquaintances via messenger apps or social networks. These communication channels offer untapped potential to reach refugees accurately.

Thomas Silberhorn, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development: "A mobile phone is the most important companion for refugees and often the only thing that people carry with them apart from their clothes. At the same time, a mobile phone serves as a direct channel to those that cannot be reached through conventional lines of communication. In a way, a mobile phone can become a development worker. We also want to use our past experience with digital technologies to better support refugees with information and educational offers. For that, the study offers important findings."

In the context of the ICT4Refugees study, the authors qualitatively surveyed a total of 108 refugees in February and March 2016 in refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece, and in cities in Turkey and Jordan. Betterplace lab and Kiron Open Higher Education undertook the research on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

The study also shows what role social start-ups play in the development of digital solutions for the needs of refugees. A total of 6 case studies are presented – for example online learning platform elmedresa, which provides school knowledge to refugees; edraak, a free online course (MOOC) for refugees; or the start-up 3DMena, which educates refugees on the use of 3D printers.

Ben Mason, one of the authors of the study: "The investigation shows that digital assistance for refugees faces obstacles. Developers should align their offers to the needs and realities of refugees. To achieve this, the study outlines relevant recommendations."

The study was presented at the eponymous conference ICT4Refugees, which takes place today in Berlin. Social start-up entrepreneurs, developers, NGOs, and traditional actors in development cooperation will meet to exchange ideas on digital initiatives to support refugees. BMZ is actively involved in this topic, against the backdrop of the federal government’s digital agenda.

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