Smartphone Penetration in Jordan and Western Perspectives

By Louise Bertrand

Digital technologies have, over the decades, taken an influential place in the daily lives of individuals around the world. This evolution includes the Syrian migrants and other displaced communities, which they use to stay in contact with their families and to access vital information. One would not suspect, however, that the most widespread digital technology in Jordan, as well as the rest of the Middle East, are smartphones. These smartphones serve as tools of convenience and survival for the displaced. Indeed, even though there is a difficulty of access to information regarding migrant services in Jordan, smartphones and applications can be powerful solutions to providing and guiding the urban refugees to services in their host countries, where they at first feel alienated with the language barrier and their status as non-citizens. That is exactly the challenge my class has been solving during the past semester: building an app UrbanRefuge/Aman (“security” in Arabic) for the Jordanian market, focusing solely on the urban settings in Amman for the moment, by simply “putting aid on the map”. Our main goal is thus to connect the incoming refugees with existing community resources and non-governmental organizations, which are not readily accessible, on a single, versatile platform.

That was when I was faced with a conundrum at the very beginning of the class. The West [and I, at first] is highly misinformed about the refugee crisis, and, more generally, about the region. I would not instinctively think that Syrian refugees possess reliable, connected devices. A lot of people will also think that they are economic migrants, who live in poverty, when they are simply fleeing war zones. In fact, many of them are middle class or highly educated, wealthy families. In addition to representing the contrary of how they are perceived, a large majority of Syrian refugees owns a smartphone. And that is why it is important to efface this misconception from the common belief of the Western public. Instead, we should raise awareness for the high potential of using smartphones as platforms for change and support in the lives of urban refugees. And how can the Westerners help? Well, the most effective options include using apps designed for the public to be more informed on the situation of the refugees, as well as funding apps directly designed to ameliorate the lives of those refugees. We need to realize that, in reality, the urban refugees both fleeing to neighboring countries or Europe are as addicted to their phone as we are, as reports show; except for them, they have a vital role in helping them navigate safely and access essential services, yet also stay in contact with their relatives.

This realization that refugees are just as well-connected as we are in the West made me grasp the amplitude of the app market in front of us and the potential to help thousands of lives. The most important detail to consider, however, is that the smartphone penetration among the refugees, especially in Jordan and the rest of the Middle in East, is extensively through Android OS smartphones. Indeed, 78% of smartphones in Jordan – our area of interest – occupy the Android OS market shares, which offer more reach than all the other OS platforms combined. Smartphones have become an extremely powerful tool for refugees; in one year alone, smartphone penetration in Jordan grew by a rate of 107%, and the sale of smartphones has caught up with that of basic phones and feature phones, going up from 18.8% in December 2012 to 41.0% in December 2013, while feature phones’ usage spiraled down from 59.2% to 40.3% in the same time frame. In comparison, PC adoption rate has slowed down considerably, due to the convenient aspect of smartphones and their portability, which justifies our focus on building an app rather than a website-based migrant services database. Smartphones are also becoming the primary internet access-point in Jordan, with 80% of the smartphone population having 3G access. Building an app instead of a website to address the urgent needs of incoming refugees would be much more accessible solution as 71% of Jordanian smartphone users download apps, and smartphones are becoming more prevalent across all socio-economic segments. A successful app, called Gherbetna, has been growing increasingly more popular in Turkey, especially. It’s something of a crossover between a Lonely Planet guide of sorts and a Craigslist-style section for job ads and other services. Many Syrian refugees in Turkey have been more easily integrated Gherbetna job services, as jobs have become hard to come by. This is an even more significant impact as jobs are only accessible once refugees have cleared their way for employment by getting work permits through the information and location services offered by the app. Now the question is, why choose Android? Besides the very high penetration of Android smartphones in Jordan, building an app for the Google Play Store offers many other benefits. Indeed, Android-based devices’ strength is that they are available in all cost ranges (from low-end to high-end smartphones), unlike iOS based smartphones – a small luxury for the Jordanian masses – which is usually the preferred operating system for which innovators build apps. This increased accessibility for Android phones on the Jordanian market is coupled with an easy portability to other operating systems – such as Blackberry, Symbian or Ubuntu OS – as Android apps are developed using the Java programming language. The fact that Android apps are open-source empowers us, college students with no computer engineering background, to use pre-existing source code to help build our own app. Finally, the availability of Android apps on the Play Store is much quicker (only a few hours) compared to that of iOS apps (usually a few weeks); this also applies to updates and bug fixes, allowing us to constantly and almost instantly improve the experience of the refugees using our app, thus allowing them more quickly and efficiently to enjoy our app services to live a smooth transition coming in to Jordan.

The key takeaway from this academic app initiative and market research on smartphone penetration in Jordan is that digital solutions have the very strong potential to help Syrian refugees because of the fact that almost all of them are equipped with smartphones, contrarily to common belief. Having this information in hand, it is my duty to eliminate these Western misconceptions on the refugee crisis through awareness, and to promote the fact that smartphones – mostly Android OS based – are an extremely powerful tool in fighting poverty, gender-divide, and the lack of access to resources information among urban refugees. That is why anyone who has the knowledge of coding should build apps to help refugees, along so many existing app initiatives. It is important to perceive smartphones as truly empowering tools for the migrants’ integration, safe navigation and connection with family, and break the stigma that refugees do not have access to high-end technology, or that, as heard as an argument in Europe, that refugees with smartphones do not need help because “they must have money if they own a smartphone”. For these displaced communities, smartphones are not simply a gadget, they also are their survival kit.

Why Donate to Refugees in Jordan?

By Taylor Resteghini

Refugees are very apparent examples of the consequences of instability and conflict. Perhaps they make us uncomfortable because they are different. Perhaps they make us uncomfortable because they pose a threat, whether actual or perceived. Regardless of how members of the international community feel towards refugees, there is no denying that the recent refugee and migrant crisis has proven that what happens in one country, most definitely can affect another.

The crisis has brought the political and economic struggles of other countries to the doors of nations who might not have noticed otherwise—and we know that the crisis is not going away any time soon. Which is why it is important for governments and organizations to invest in long term solutions, such as proper housing, education and working permits. We, the everyday people, cannot directly change legal policy towards refugees, but we help attitudes become more progressive towards them by donating to organizations that directly aid refugees and by encouraging our political leaders to do more about the issue.

Why should we do this? Well, besides the argument for simply supporting fellow humans in times of crisis, it is important to acknowledge that refugees are just like anyone else: with the right opportunity, they can make a huge impact on society. Many Syrians and Iraqis fleeing their countries were once doctors, lawyers and teachers who, if given the opportunity and the tools, can become powerful liaisons between their communities and the communities of their host countries and preform powerful work even while displaced.

There are statements claiming that refugees are “a drain on resources” and that they need to “stay in their countries and fight to fix things”. However, if we don’t provide refugees with shelter, education and legal and medical help, they will not be able to contribute to society at their highest potentials. They cannot rebuild their lives during a conflict that is still raging if the international community does not give them the help they need. A country’s prosperity doesn’t have to be zero sum—we can all benefit from helping refugees.

For example, thousands of refugee children are missing out on years of education due to poverty, displacement, and mental instability that forces them to fall behind their peers. Many aren’t going to school at all, and those who do struggle. How can we expect that these children will become successful, happy and leading forces in their communities if they don’t have access to basic rights?

A bright and beautiful future for any society begins with the well being of it’s people. In helping refugees recover and flourish in their time of need, we are also setting up a brighter future for Jordan, Syria, Iraq and their neighbors. Just as instability begets instability, prosperity in one region can mean prosperity for the whole world round. If we want stability in the Middle East, the best way to achieve it is to listen to and invest in the people, not drones or weapons. A country’s prosperity doesn’t have to be zero sum—we can all benefit from helping refugees.

Jordan has taken in a significant amount of refugees, not only from Syria and Iraq in recent years, but from Palestine and Lebanon in past times of conflict. But government and NGO aid in the country can only support so much—for aiding the approximately 1.4 million refugees living in Jordan is no easy task. Only 620,000 are officially registered with the UNHCR (June of 2015 according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), which means many can easily fall through the cracks without more attention. More global support, from citizens and their countries, can help bear the strain on resources

The more we stand up to the issue, the louder we are saying that this is not ok this is not normal. We don’t have to save the world with one donation but by picking a cause to support, be it education, immunization, or food and shelter, we can contribute to the future of children, families, communities and nations.

If you are committed to helping refugees in Jordan, click out "Take Action" button at the top of our page and get involved with us! Our crowdfunding campaign is currently live, and we are working hard to make our app a reality for Jordan's refugees!

 

Transforming Refugee Registration

BY EMILY SAMSON

The on-going Syrian refugee crisis is unprecedented both in its size and in the burden it has placed on the humanitarian system. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has struggled to respond to this massive degree of displacement. The UNHCR registration system cannot keep up with the number of migrants, causing lags in the process and leaving thousands of refugees stuck in a sort of “registration limbo,” unable to receive the help they need. Introduction of a digital solution into this system could revolutionize refugee registration, making it faster and more efficient, and thus giving more people of concern access to UNHCR services.

 

Before a refugee can receive any form of humanitarian assistance from the UNCHR, he/she must be registered, in order to document his/her needs, to identify the protection that he/she may require, and to provide him/her with proper identification documents. As one UNHCR worker put it, “Registration means help.” It is the first step on the way to getting aid.

 

The UNHCR registration process is split into two phases, both of which occur once the migrant in question has arrived at his/her destination. In the first phase, either the refugee or a UNHCR representative will fill out a registration form to gather basic information, such as name, age, family size, etc. The second phase requires that each migrant be photographed and interviewed. Both family interviews and individual interviews must be conducted. UNHCR representatives collect more in-depth information during these conversations, including details of the migrant’s personal, educational and professional background. The data collected during both stages must then be verified and approved, either by the UNHCR or by the government.

 

The sheer number of refugees fleeing Syria for host countries in the Middle East and Europe in recent years has presented the UNHCR with an overwhelming challenge. Despite attempts to conquer this problem, from adding registration centers to adopting biometric identifiers such as retina scans, the UNHCR cannot keep pace with the waves of new applicants. One UNHCR worker estimated that at a given time, about one- hundred- to- two- hundred thousand Syrian refugees may be waiting for completed registration.

 

European software company SAP is working on a project to expedite this process. This app would allow migrants with smart phones (a surprisingly large percentage) to complete initial registration forms prior to their arrival. The app focuses exclusively on Germany, one of the most common destinations within Europe. While this has the potential to prove incredibly useful to migrants heading to Germany, the app’s geographical limitation makes it irrelevant to most Syrian refugees. However, if this idea were expanded to encompass a variety of host countries, it could be truly groundbreaking. Someone, whether it be SAP, another company, an NGO, or even the UNHCR itself, could produce a similar that app would allow migrants to choose from a list of destinations. Their forms could then be routed to the appropriate offices. They could even receive useful tips to better prepare them on arrival, such as the location of UNHCR registration centers in the host country. Each migrant would then arrive at his/her destination ready to embark upon the second phase of the registration process.

 

A digital solution that would allow refugees to begin application for UNHCR registration while on the road would alleviate much of the stress on the system. Of course not all migrants have access to smart phones, phone chargers, or Internet, but enough do to make this a worthwhile enterprise. Registrations could be processed much more quickly, leaving fewer migrants around the world stuck in “registration limbo.” Refugees could receive much- needed aid sooner, giving them a better chance of survival and of success in their new home.

The Long-Term Concern of Refugee Mental Health

BY Taylor Resteghini

While much of the humanitarian efforts throughout Europe and the Middle East have been aimed at meeting immediate needs for millions of displaced persons, there is a recognizable need that poses an even greater threat to the well being of refugees: mental health.

The refugees coming out of Syria and Iraq have traumatic reasons for leaving their home countries. Many have witnessed or been subjected to violence, murder and social upheaval. Further trauma comes from having to make long and hazardous journeys to safety. Refugees also struggle with being uprooted from their homes and separated from family members.Once they have reached safer shores, refugees face a process of resettlement that also brings stress and uncertainty. Obstacles such as delayed asylum application processes, inability to work and lack of support systems place further pressure on refugee mental health.

The UNHCR notes that the number of refugees suffering from malnutrition or infectious diseases is very low but psychological issues remain deeply concerning. International Medical Corps conducted a study across refugee populations in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The results found that 54 percent of those surveyed were struggling with a mental, neurological or substance use problem. According to the Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center, the most common mental health conditions associated with refugee populations include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.

These conditions cause great distress, particularly for young people. A 2014 report from Unicef cited a survey that found a third of Syrian children at the Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan displayed unusually aggressive behavior and engaged in self-harm. Other reports have highlighted nightmares, constant weeping and inability to engage with other children as consequences of their trauma. The report warned that without help, these children were at risk of drifting into crime, addiction and violence, and that some were already joining criminal gangs.

However, services for chronic diseases and refugee mental health are insufficient, due to a lack of funding and absence of standardized treatment. In addition, cultural context and language barriers have made it difficult for organizations and physicians to carry out effective and standardized treatments. Mental health services are relatively expensive and many host countries in the Middle East lack sufficient qualified mental health professionals to reach every refugee. Additionally, building a relationship with a mental health physician or psychologist is a long-term process. Refugees are not guaranteed to be in any place for a long time, making it difficult to develop therapeutic relationships and keep up with treatments.

Despite the lack of mental health services for refugees, some organizations, and even refugees themselves, are taking on the challenge. Project Amal ou Salam, meaning Project Hope and Peace, helps support schools and workshops for refugee children throughout Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. The organization uses “music, art, sports, photography and team-building activities to teach the kids about trust and unity and help them deal with the trauma they have sustained.”

Another such effort, Syria Bright Future, is run by Dr. Mohammad Abo-Hilal, a Syrian psychiatrist. His organization focuses on helping Syrian refugees in Jordan, particularly children. Dr. Abo-Hilal’s youngest clients learn to visualize a safe space, use relaxation techniques and confront bad experiences by drawing them. In this way, he hopes to provide children with a space to vent their experiences, but more importantly to express their dreams for the future. The evidence that such techniques can reliably reduce symptoms of traumatic stress is still unclear, Dr. Abo-Hilal said, many children have learned to cope with some of their stress. However, Dr. Abo-Hilal laments that his services have not done enough, “All that we did, maybe we cover 10,000 or 20,000 children-- but there are millions out there waiting for this help.”

Many of the people who have fled Syria are lawyers, doctors and psychologists-- people who could help address the gap in services for displaced Syrians. However in many host nations in the Middle East, work permits for refugees are unavailable or forbid them to work in certain white-collar sectors, like medicine. In order to find work in Jordan, Syrian doctors work illegally under the cover of Jordanian doctors, often for lesser pay and longer hours. The risk of doing this is high: violations can result in three-year jail sentences, or worse, deportation back to Syria.

In our research for Urban Refuge, we discovered just how dire the need is for long-term services and stability amongst refugees. While immediate needs, like food and shelter, are incredibly important, it is the long term needs that will help the millions of people coming from Syria, Iraq and other nations rebuild their lives . However, it seems that governments have be hesitant to give more assistance to refugees, in part because it would mean giving them more citizenship rights and permanency to their settlement in host communities.

Mental health care is requires more than just therapy. Living a happy, healthy life entails rights such as access to education, ability to work, and safe, permanent living situations-- all the things that refugees are lacking. Addressing the systemic issues that limit mental health care is a difficult task that requires a long-term shift in funding and policy. However, the costs of not addressing this issue are much higher. The children of Syria have the right to become happy, educated adults with fulfilling lives. The longer we ignore their well-being, the further we condemn them to lives of chaos and suffering.

Changing the fundamentals of the European debate about forced migration

BY Lisa Kadel

Looking at Europe during the past few years, it seems like the continent just can’t get past operating in crisis mode. The sovereign debt crisis, Ukraine, Brexit and the rise of nationalism and anti-EU sentiments are just some examples of the numerous struggles governments and societies are facing. It is not surprise that the most recent influx of refugees is seen as a crisis as well. In fact, “crisis” is one of the more positive terms used regularly to describe the current situation. A crisis can be managed, while expressions like “flood” or “wave” dehumanize refugees and imply inevitable destruction unless we build walls to keep them out.

On the other hand, many continue to advocate for compassionate policies for those fleeing conditions that most Europeans cannot even begin to imagine. But even the strongest commitments to welcoming refugees are overwhelmingly meant as acts of graciousness, and there is a clear distinction between givers and receivers: the selfless Europeans helping the pitiful refugees. Hardly anybody is thinking in terms of empowerment and the potential to bring positive change for both sides. Yet making these the basis of the debate leads to a picture very different from the one currently dominating the media and people’s minds.

This is not to say that hosting refugees does not incur costs on a society. In Europe, but much more in countries closer to regions of violent conflict, the influx of forced migrants puts a strain on budget and infrastructure. However, we need to change how we address these issues. Rather than focus on limiting immigration, we should adapt current policies to the new situation. This will allow us to create a situation in which the protection of the physical integrity and dignity of those seeking asylum is ensured, while costs are kept to a minimum or even, in the long term, off-set by gains.

Thinking in terms of empowering individuals and utilizing their potential leads to a vision of refugees who are legally working and earning enough to support their families. This enables them to control their own lives, contribute to society, and thus helps to maintain or regain a sense of dignity. Immigrants enjoy the same protections against exploitation as nationals.

Work also helps make personal connections between immigrants and natives, facilitating mutual understanding and thus the peaceful coexistence of cultures. This benefits both communities rather than alienating the different groups from one another. In addition, host countries would save the money that they are currently spending on feeding and housing refugees that are not allowed to work, and would even gain tax revenue. The additional workforce would support economic growth and off-set the imbalances in the social support system that an aging society creates.

Of course reality is complicated and fundamental change does not happen overnight. But with realistic expectations and open-mindedness, willingness to address the real roots of domestic problems that are commonly mistakenly blamed on immigrants, it is possible to adapt legal and economic frameworks to make change for the better.

Most refugees will stay in a host country for extended periods of time, maybe even forever. Europe, with its “guest workers” in the second half of the 20th century, has already experienced how assuming migrants will only stay temporarily  can lead to flawed integration. Refugees, as well as other immigrants, need to be allowed to maintain their cultural and religious identity. In accordance with the law, everybody should be able to follow whatever cultural practices they prefer. Integration does not mean assimilation, but requires efforts to understand each other from both sides. If the law does not reflect what a society defines as its non-negotiable “core values”, it can be changed. But expecting immigrants to adhere to extremely vague rules that nobody can specify is simply unfair. So is holding them to higher standards than the native population. Some immigrants will commit crimes, just as some natives do. But nationality or residence status should not determine how someone is judged for their actions, morally and legally.

Immigrants are often used as scapegoats for all kinds of problems societies face, from failing social security systems and unemployment to gender inequality and gender-based violence. It is necessary to explore and address the real roots of these problems. Politicians need to withstand the temptation to capitalize on existing fears and prejudice to gain votes. While it is of course necessary to listen to constituents, there is a difference between listening to concerns seriously, and fueling hate and prejudice. The latter hurts not only those who are labelled as “the other”, but also society as a whole as it creates division, hinders integration, and diverts attention from the real causes of problems.

Moreover, legal frameworks need to be adapted and the economy must be enabled to absorb the additional workforce. Residential permits need to be issued for time periods long enough to make learning a new language and skills worthwhile for the refugees, and for employers to hire and train them. Innovation is needed to efficiently deal with more technical questions including recognition of foreign education, cost-efficient and quality language learning opportunities to large numbers of people, and systems to efficiently match people with jobs. To avoid an increase in unemployment and a race to the bottom in social standards, investment to create new jobs and improvement of social protection for workers, such as minimum wages and protection against dismissal, are key.

These are not simple tasks. They imply challenging the dominant mindset, which is never easy. Deep-rooted resentment among the population against immigration in general, especially from majority Muslim countries, must be overcome. But Europe, one of the richest regions in the world, without a doubt has the resources to make the innovations necessary in order to create a win-win situation. This is the time to make a choice between affirming liberalism and human rights and building a strong framework to face the future on the one hand, and failing people in need, looking the other way and negating the realities of globalization on the other.

The Ripple Effects of a Crisis: Water Shortage in Jordan

BY Sara Mejias

For the past year, much has been written about the Flint water crisis after high levels of lead were found in the town’s water system. Lead poisoning has been known to significantly hurt the development of children. The outcry has lead to much debate about lead poisoning all over America, especially in the context of economic inequality and race. 

In Jordan, another water crisis is bubbling—but it is one that has been going on for many years and shows no signs of stopping without intervention from the humanitarian and development community.

It is no secret that Jordan has a water shortage problem; in fact, Jordan’s 2008-2022 water strategy outlined the ways that the country was going to improve its water resource management. However, the plan did not predict the ongoing inflow of refugees from Syria. By December 2013, Jordan had already surpassed an 8 million increase in population, 9 years earlier than expected. 

Even before the Syrian refugee crisis, it was predicted that Jordan’s population would have only 90.5 cubic meters of water per person per year by 2025 if new measures were not taken. In comparison, an average person in America uses 9000 cubic meters of water per year. The World Bank recommends a 1000 cubic meters of water per person per year globally. In the wake of the increase in population, a new strategy and further funding is needed to increase water efficiency in Jordan. 

Increased investment in water-improvement projects can have positive effects that go beyond meeting a person’s basic water needs; it creates positive outcomes for host country relations, the government, and the environment according to publications on the water situation in Jordan, such as Mercy Corps’ “Tapped Out” report.

Increased water investment can alleviate tensions between Jordanians and Syrians. Once Jordanians start seeing improvement in the water system, they will be less likely to see Syrians as a burden to the country. 

Political stability will increase in Jordan with higher levels of water availability. Jordanians have been known to protest over the lack of water in households, especially during the summer months. 

The environment will be better preserved for the future. Tackling the water crisis in Jordan can lead to the preservation of water related ecosystems such as rivers in Jordan that are necessary to alleviate water scarcity. 

In the future, a country’s water shortage could even start impacting their international credit rating

Aleena Farishta writes in her 2014 master’s thesis “The Impact of Syrian Refugees on Jordan’s Water Resources and Water Management Planning” that “groundwater overdraft, pollution of freshwater sources, and the inability of the existing water infrastructure to cope with an additional 600,000 people were cited as major concerns for Jordan’s water sector.”

Since refugees have continued to increase in Jordan throughout the protracted refugee situation, it is important that long term solutions to the water crisis are taken seriously.

In light of the Flint water crisis, Americans are well aware of the necessity for clean, reliable water in a person’s life. However, with the Syrian refugee situation still underfunded, it is painfully obvious that not enough is being done to fund emergency aid, let alone long term investment.  
 

The Vulnerability of the Migrant

BY ELIZABETH MIGNON

Human trafficking of migrants will increase in the EU, due in part by the far right extremism and lack of EU solidarity on immigration. How can this be? There has been a record amount of migrants coming to Europe. May it be Syrian migrants fleeing civil war, Iraqi migrants leaving a weak economy, or Eritreans in sub Saharan Africa fleeing an oppressive government (UNODC) (Guardian). These are few profiles of many. This has caused great unrest within Europe and the European Union, so much so that there has yet to be unity and a comprehensive plan to deal with the flow of migrants, relegating each country to decide for themselves how to protect their borders. There has also been a rise of far right extremism in Europe. One could also argue the race complex that is hovering around the incoming migrants as well as their faith. Unless the EU council on immigration has a comprehensive plan to deal with migrants, other than sending them back to turkey, or defunding rescue missions for boats coming from Libya, as well as address the rise of anti immigrant, islamophobic far right movements, the EU will be inundated by migrants they can’t support, and far right movements too strong to squash.

Who is fleeing? There are many routes that are being taken by migrants. A very popular heavily covered route is that from turkey to Greece. The Mediterranean, coined by some, as the “sea of death” (Vice) has taken the lives of many within the past couple of years. Nevertheless, many migrants from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan pay smugglers for overcrowded passage on an expired boat. According to the “2010 UNODC report on smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean region, irregular migration in Turkey is increasing sharply, and changes in the ethnic composition of the migrants.” (IOM) Europe is seeing an unprecedented number of peoples. “More than 800,000 asylum seekers and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, with most traveling onward to northern and western EU countries.” (Human Rights Watch) Might I interject and say these people who can afford to traverse the many miles to port cities like Izmir are the wealthier ones, who have the means to take such a risky passage.

There is also the central African route, many have used the ports of Libya to leave to get to deceivingly far islands such as lampedusa of Italy. One of the issues that these sub Saharan migrants face, is the fact that Libya, post Gaddafi, is unstable. They are at risk to be trafficked by the factions that vie for power. Detention camps are common. If one is so lucky to get to the “sea of death” then it is a waiting game of who and when you will be rescued. If you are so fortunate enough to be rescued by Frontex, an NGO, a fishing boat, or the Italian coastguard, then you will be taken to Italy. (VICE) If found by a Libyan faction, then you will be brought back to a detention camps, in a land void of strong government, regulations, international legitimacy, and rife with domestic upheaval. (VICE) These are the perfect conditions for trafficking people. Turkey like many other countries knows, you can hide many things under the guise of the chaos of war, the Armenian genocide. The problem that is addressed is how will the EU with its far right extremism and lack of solidarity handle the migrants who have risked everything to get to Europe, and will keep on risking everything to get to Europe.

The problem also arises on how these migrants are received, not only the destination countries are a hostile environment but the transit countries as well, such as Turkey and Libya. How will they cope with these flows of people? How do these migrants sustain themselves, what informal economy do they tap into, or fall victim to? People pay smugglers to help them get to their destination, but the line between voluntary smuggling, to being trafficked is grey and ever present. Smuggling can be voluntary, altruistic, or coercive and manipulating. (UNODC) Many migrants who are fleeing war may voluntarily pay a smuggler to help them cross the border or the Mediterranean. However, with depleting funds, lack of legal protection, and vulnerability that migration brings, it easy to be trafficked, may it be on the Libyan coast, or one’s way to Germany. There already has been a count of 10,000 children missing and trafficked from this year alone. (Guardian) “There was evidence of a "criminal infrastructure" established since mid-2014 to exploit the refugee flow. The Observer reported that Europol found evidence of links between smuggling rings bringing people into the European Union and human trafficking gangs exploiting migrants for sex and slavery.” (Guardian) Many will seize the opportunity to profit off of the migrants desperation.

Instead of dealing with the destination countries, the problem of this mass migration should be solved at the source, of the countries supplying the migrants. In Europe, especially the EU, there has been no solid immigration reform to deal with the migrant crisis. France has expressed hesitation, letting migrants in Calais suffer. Germany has opened up its arms and then receded when realizing the enormity of the issue. There has been a sense of share the burden coming from Greece, with itself taking the brunt of the migration flows from the east and its shores. Ironically, it might be the most ill equipped country, as it is suffering from a depression and severe austerity measures given by the EU. This brings into question, what happens to the human rights of these migrants when austerity and poverty is felt by the country in which you seek refuge. What happens when your country who cannot afford your social welfare, or the fact that you cannot tap into that social welfare because of means or opportunity? If one adds a threatened identity, may it be ethnic, religious, or national as well as fear of the unknown and a deep sense of hatred for the other, one gets the Front National, Pegida, and Golden Dawn. Each far right extremist group is particular to the country, but in truth, this is textbook fascism, at least the seeds of it.

With this said, I find it imperative that the EU stops flip flopping with its policies in order to look good yet protect their nationalist interests. There needs to be a sense of shared opportunity, not burden, amongst the international community. It cannot be the EU alone to incorporate all these migrants. Not only is Greece dealing with financial woes, and the entirety of Europe dealing with identity issues, we must still take into account the plight of the migrant. We should not only take a cue from Canada, offering stay and programs to welcome the migrants into Canadian communities, but we must take a cue from Jordan as well. A country with no natural resources to speak of, and main funder of its coiffeurs is international aid. Yet they are able to absorb a history of peoples. May it be the Armenians who fled the genocide in the first World War (when Jordan was yet defined), Palestinian refugees since the advent of Israel, Iraqi refugees during its civil wars, and now Syrian refugees. We must take a cue from every country who has successfully incorporated groups of people into their greater society, that is the only way to protect the peoples and the national security that all are invested in.

Human trafficking will increase in Europe and certain African countries if the international community does not share an interest and a duty towards these migrants. They will be more vulnerable, more desperate, if they are not given jobs to support themselves in the long run, and asylum to save them in the short run.

Urban Refuge in a Nutshell

The New Relationship between Academia and Policy

By Ellie Hitt

As university students in a policy-based course, too often we deflect our disappointment that our policy recommendations—developed through hours of scouring reports, sifting through data and critical review—go unnoticed. Our abilities are underestimated by assuming that we don’t have the capacity to make a difference. However, I profoundly believe that we have the emotional, intellectual, and technical abilities to progress the human condition.

You don’t have to be the Secretary General of the United Nations or the Secretary of State to have a lasting impact on the refugee system in the United States or abroad. That’s the basic idea behind our app, Urban Refuge. What began as a policy course concerning the Syrian refugee crisis has turned into a 26 person mini-nonprofit concentrated on creating an app that puts aid on the map beginning in Amman, Jordan.

We began our project researching services provided to Syrian refugees, ranging from educational initiatives to urban housing, and we discovered that there was neither a mechanism for coordination between NGOs nor a central database of resources and information that could be easily used. Our app is simple. We are working to ameliorate the urban lived experience by geotagging services provided to refugees with the assistance of local implementing partners through synthesizing readily available information.  Our app will give agency to the individual and empower them to locate and access the aid that they need in one easy step.

Beyond the idea of a solitary app, Urban Refuge questions the relationship between academia and policy. Our model moves to an understanding that NGOs and refugees themselves are often likely to be better clients than policy makers. In a climate of government inefficiency and stagnation, we have to reconsider what our impact as students and professors can be. The new attitude of study on college campuses should reflect a shift away from traditional policy recommendations towards tangible, measurable solutions such as apps and small initiatives. Essentially, it’s time to tear down the dated method of policy description.

Made up entirely of women entrepreneurs, we have developed a solution to one aspect of a global problem through technology and critical problem-solving. Our interdisciplinary solution that involves business, international relations, and computer science students and faculty provides a structure that can easily be adapted to cities around the world and to college campuses here at home. Urban Refuge not only mitigates the lived experience of urban refugees in Amman, but likewise provides an area of future research. We intend to track usage to determine whether the app actually influences the services sought by refugees and to identify gaps in coverage both by sector and geographically.

Beyond the scope of our project, we want to challenge the way that academia and policy interact on a fundamental level. Our approach is interdisciplinary, technical, grassroots, collaborative, and fast paced. It involves critical problem solving, knowledge of policy, and awareness of the governmental process.

What is needed is a commitment to progressing the new relationship between academia and policy. Colleges and universities are in desperate need of mechanisms that foster entrepreneurship about global issues. Funding could be put towards policy incubators that encourage integration between departments as well as seed funding for groundbreaking ideas produced in the classroom context.

With institutional support, there is no better time to foster innovation in a student with a true desire to learn, innovate, and make a difference. The time is now to go out and change the world—one app at a time.

Introducing the Urban Refuge App

The Urban Refuge App was created by an all-female team of students from Boston University, and is now preparing for launch on a world-wide scale. We are in the process of developing the beta version of our app, and are launching our very first crowdfunding campaign in the coming weeks. We truly believe in our app's mission to connect refugees with the resources they need in Amman, and we hope that you too are inspired to join us in achieving this goal. 

Please check back here for more updates from the team, our app's progress, and more. We sincerely thank you for your interest in our app!