Europe is currently facing the worst refugee crisis in 60 years. The continent is in turmoil, with governments struggling to manage the influx of people, and citizens of various countries being divided over whether or not to help refugees. In fact, even the media is struggling to deal with the crisis, referring to the displaced people either as ‘migrants’ or ‘refugees’, much to the anger of the two sides among the citizens of the countries.
Political ideologies aside, however, the reality is that huge numbers of people are traveling over great distances and putting themselves in considerable danger. It has given rise to people smugglers, something that all governments are trying to address. Google, however, has noticed that there is something different about refugees in this particular crisis, and that is the fact that they own smartphones.
Google has already been at the forefront of helping refugees, and this is the second of their various actions to provide assistance.
Google’s new platform comes after a month after a fundraiser run by the company managed to collect $5.5m in just two days for the refugee crisis. Google said the funds were used to support the work of organisations including Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Large numbers of refugees arriving to Europe now have smartphones. This is something that has worried the right wing press, although they have been told that these refugees are fleeing from war, not the 18th century. Google, meanwhile, understands the power of these smartphones and has developed a new method of providing help. They know smartphones are used not just to communicate, but also to find information and to navigate around. In fact, some have suggested that Google maps are putting people smugglers out of business.
People look to Facebook groups where users post information about travel routes and places to sleep and get WiFi once they land, the Irish Times reported. Throughout the journey, people say they use Google Maps while traversing on both land and sea.
Because of this, the face of relief efforts has completely changed as well. Aid workers are also using the fact that refugees have smartphones as a method to stay in touch with each other. However, new challenges have also emerged, such as how to power up telephones, where to find WiFi and making sure an internet connection is stable enough to actually help the refugees.
Google, as stated previously, is fully committed to helping refugees and is making sustained efforts to ensure they remain safe. They have now launched the ‘Crisis Info Hub,’ which holds vital information for refugees. One day after the launch, the website only holds information on Lesvos in Greece, which is where the vast majority of refugees arrive first.
Welcome to the Greek island of Lesvos. From wherever you land on the island, you will need to travel to the capital, Mytilene. In Mytilene you will be registered as arriving in Greece. You need to be registered to continue your journey on a ferry or plane, take taxis or stay in hotels. You cannot move around Greece legally without completing the registration process.
However, Google intends to update this website with information on all the various points where refugees find themselves on their journey across Europe. The Crisis Info Hub is presented in a website that is mobile accessible but that is lightweight and does not use too much battery power. Information included on the sites will focus on ports, medical information, transport links, and places to sleep. Additionally, the information is available in Arabic, English and other languages. Google has partnered up with the International Rescue Committee and with Mercy Corps, which are two global aid organizations. The site is completely open source.
It is believed that the current refugee crisis is the biggest since WWII. Some 680,000 refugees are believed to have entered Europe over recent months and this is creating a logistical nightmare. Additionally, the humanitarian crisis is reaching breaking point. Germany, meanwhile, has opened its borders to refugees, but they are now calling for mandatory quota of refugees for all other European countries. The United Kingdom, which is in a luxury position because it is an island, is very resistant to the suggestions of the German government.
Meanwhile, on the ground, aid workers are getting on with the job without government support. They use technology in order to make sure the right aid is collected and distributed in the right place. One of the activities aid workers are currently looking at and crowdfunding for are battery powered WiFi hotspots. These can be carried inside a backpack and can be charged using items commonly found in hardwares and other stores for very little money. Various international charities, including Greenpeace, are also joining in these efforts.
While refugees are using smartphones and social media to communicate, aid workers are doing the same. Facebook groups are being used to organize collections across the continent and Google Maps are being created to show volunteers and people who want to make donations where they can go and what is needed.
Red markers are most urgent. Orange less urgent. Yellow has people onsite, but everything ok.
Europe is struggling to respond to the humanitarian crisis on a governmental level. However, individual people are joining hands to simply get on with the current crisis, rather than waiting for their governments to come up with a solution. Google, meanwhile, continues to help in these efforts, as they have made clear in their official blog.
In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to work closely with our partners on the ground to evaluate how else we can bring the best of Google’s resources to help out with this tragic situation. Thank you for all your generosity and support so far.
Google also continues to encourage people to help where they can. They are currently asking for people to translate the information provided on the Crisis Info Hub, for instance. By working together, the greatest humanitarian crisis faced in Europe in 60 years can perhaps be addressed.