When we think of refugees, many of us picture squalid living conditions and surviving in a world without access to technology. As the Syrian refugee crisis has made clear, that's simply not true in 2016. Many displaced persons rely on technology heavily to locate lost loved ones (watch this excellent video of a poem read aloud by Neil Gaiman and several other celebs and writers, which highlights some of the belongings that refugees grabbed in the final moments before fleeing their homes).
Social media and the internet has upturned not only the tools that refugees might have to navigate escape from conflict zones, but also the tools used for spreading awareness of their very existence. Several refugees have Googlemapped routes through Europe that others can follow. Whatsapp and Facebook allow refugees to communicate without a cellular network, and even Humans of New York has put refugees on the map by posting videos of refugees directly onto the newsfeeds of millions of users. It's interesting to note that social media outlets like Facebook are becoming partially responsible for major events in history, such as the Arab spring. In turn, Facebook is also a popular tool for...wait for it....smugglers.
When I say smugglers, I mean people who help transport migrants and refugees into Europe, usually via dangerous means. In some cases it's a raft, in other cases, a bumpy ride in a crowded pick-up through the Sahara. I'm not sure which is worse--the possibility of drowning, or the very real danger of getting lost in the desert and running out of water. Either way, these services are real and all as easy as creating a Facebook page.
In what other ways is technology changing the landscape of refugee resettlement? I foresee a few big changes.
1. Identification: Social media has become a way of tracking all of the major milestones in our lives. Hell, Instagram probably remembers what you ate for lunch yesterday better than you do. The iphone recognizes your fingerprint, and so do most banking apps. What if social media (and more specifically, our phones) becomes a way of verifying our identities in more meaningful ways? I think long before we have chip implants or mandatory eye scans, our technology is going to "prove" our national and legal identities.
2. On-the-ground emergency services (rations, temporary dwellings, clothing, etc.): Modular dwellings are already the future of refugee housing, but what about clothing and food? I see products like Soylent(a complete nutritional meal replacement) becoming the way to feed at-risk populations with little access to food, and quick-dry, multi-purpose clothing as the best way to protect refugees against harsh outdoor conditions. Solar power will also be crucial to providing light and energy in refugee camps, and is already being provided to Syrian refugees in Jordan. This type of energy is important for long-term displacement, considering that many refugees spend years in a camp and are often without electricity.
3. Language learning and translation: What if you could translate another language in real time without having to slog through a dictionary or rely on an interpreter? Recently, a device that resembles Douglas Adams's babelfish became a reality. This could completely alter the scope of immigration, including access to employment opportunities, interacting with case workers, doctors, and teachers, and talking over the phone. It might also alter the enrollment of students in ESL classes (although my hope is that it will not replace language learning entirely--I'm a bit biased here as a language educator!).
What other ways do you see technology changing immigration?