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Tech Tools Helping Refugees Cope With Europe -- And Vice-Versa


A boy looks on as he waits in line for permission to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia after Macedonia started granting passage only to refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan last month.

A boy looks on as he waits in line for permission to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia after Macedonia started granting passage only to refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan last month.

With the number of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe this year climbing above 1 million, tech professionals and volunteers are developing creative tech solutions to help deal with the biggest migration crisis on the continent since World War II.

"It's 2015, not 1945," says Mike Butcher, founder of a nonprofit initiative known as TechFugees. "We don't have to wait years and years to find people [and reunite families]."

Butcher, a journalist for the TechCrunch website, tells RFE/RL that TechFugees creates computer-related work for refugees and gives them job opportunities.

He adds that TechFugees also organizes "hackathons" -- multiday meetings of people working together to design software projects and other technologies for migrants.

"Apart from the humanitarian reasons [for helping refugees], this is also a great opportunity to get refugees involved in society" and to integrate quicker, Butcher says.

Facebook sponsored the first TechFugees hackathon, he says, and Google worked to improve its online Arabic translation service since so many of the refugees and migrants are coming from the Middle East and other Arabic-speaking regions.

Here are some of the initiatives -- some created at TechFugees hackathons -- that Butcher lists as having been developed to help cope with Europe's refugee crisis:

MyRefugee -- Allows refugees to pinpoint their location and share it with aid agencies

migreat.com -- Helps refugees apply for legal asylum. It can also provide them with a legal adviser or help them get a visa. It can even help refugees find specific communities or housing, or meet people and make friends

First Contact -- Publishes information to help refugees find safe shelters in Europe

Refugees Welcome -- Helps find rooms in apartments and houses in nine countries. It has so far found places for 471 refugees

GeeCycle.org -- A network that makes it easy for people to donate mobile phones that will be given to refugees

RefugeesOnRails.org -- Collects old laptops and gives them to refugees. There is also an organization in Berlin with the same name that teaches refugees how to do coding so they can work in the IT industry

Lesbos Shelter Project -- Organizes volunteers to help new arrivals to the Greek island of Lesbos, where the overwhelming majority of refugees land from Turkey. Volunteers distribute tents and heaters to migrants for the time they are on Lesbos getting registered. (The United Nations reported on December 22 that some 970,000 migrants had crossed the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe)

Workee -- Helps refugees in Germany find work.

Solidarity -- Allows people without Internet access to send messages and photos on their mobile phones.

ShareTheMeal.org -- Allows people to donate money to provide refugees with food. Organized by the UN's World Food Program

Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by Diana Munasipova
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