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RefAid: a global application with vital information for migrants

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Shelley Taylor was in Silicon Valley in her native California on September 3, 2015, when she saw in the media a shocking photo of the corpse of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who had drowned on the banks of Ali Hoka Buruna. (turkey). , He, who had also lost his son, felt the pain of the father as his own – his mother, along with another son, died during a shipwreck – who was fleeing the war in Syria. She felt she should try to help, she tells this newspaper in a video call. In just one weekend he developed the application RefAid, which brings together all the assistance provided by non-governmental organizations to migrants. What makes it accessible is that it does not require a permanent internet connection and is available in seven languages ​​(Spanish, English, French, Farsi, Arabic, Russian and Ukrainian). “As long as you have downloaded it, that is enough”, explains the founder. While they are already working with 8,000 organizations in 50 countries, they now aim to map public and community services around the world to help all vulnerable people.

Alvar Sánchez, a Jesuit based in Nador (Morocco), explains that pregnant women who give birth in the jungle are a good example of the need for an application like RefAid. Diocesan Delegation of Caritas and Social Action (Serna, for its short name in French). “We have a service in Morocco where we pick them up and take them to the hospital or even have an ambulance pick them up,” she says. However, due to the extremely vulnerable situation in which they find themselves, many “arrive at a camp where there are people who suddenly leave and return with vegetables, water or life jackets, but are unaware that That there could be a hospital just 10 kilometers away”, he added.

To prevent insurmountable situations, the application has several services like a specific category for women or drinking water. For example, in Madrid when opening it, and clicking on food, there is a list of different soup kitchens such as those of the autonomous community itself or St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Association, All with brief details of hours and addresses. In addition, you can directly view a map that allows you to search for nearby services.

RefAid is designed to be accessible to people with low literacy

From Nador in Morocco, Rodrigue Dombou, head of Serna’s bathing and hygiene service for expatriates, explains that the program’s usefulness lies in the autonomy it provides to people on the go: not requiring an internet connection In addition, it is accessible to people who cannot read, as it allows the mobile to reproduce information aloud. Dombou is a migrant who made his journey from Cameroon to Morocco without the help of RefAid, so he is acutely aware of the kind of help such an app would provide. “People travel like goods. You can’t go out, or let them see you. In countries like Morocco, where there are minimal services, this is where it becomes very useful,” he stressed. He now teaches workshops on raising awareness and using the tool for NGOs, which also promote it among expatriates through social networks and word of mouth. For institutions, they do so through conferences such as Frontera Sur, which was recently held in Malaga and organizations such as Caritas or Justicia y Paz met there.

RefAid is completely free for the user, but institutions must pay for a usage license to include more services for the expatriate. In 2015, when Taylor software, he went to UNHCR and other NGOs such as the British Red Cross or Caritas “to make sure there weren’t people already doing it.” It is the first tool that has all service providers from local, national, international and government organizations. Although it is no longer the only one, “most have closed within a year of being implemented or are closed only to a small area, such as a city or town,” explains Taylor. For example, La Serna chose this device “because in the end it is what provides the most security,” explains Sanchez.

reduce hazards

In 2017, a year after the launch of RefAid to the general public, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) undertook to launch its own project Pravasi App In its experimental version and only in three languages. In 2022, they relaunched the initiative, this time with improvements: eight languages ​​and the possibility to make low-cost transfers. Unlike RefAid, this tool allows the location of migrants and family members to be known. In his version, Taylor intentionally prevented people from using it to track him.

RefEd application interface created by Shelley Taylor.  assigned image
RefEd application interface created by Shelley Taylor. assigned image

The installer clarifies that an email is requested to be able to connect to the device and show users nearby services. “It may be fake and does not require authentication, but it allows us to show what is being offered within a radius of 500 meters. It also serves so that providers can send direct messages to people in a geographic area”, argues Taylor. Sánchez assured that “people who come to northern Morocco do not want to be located” and that is why it is important to explain to them that the problem is not applications like RefAid, but, for example, their connections to social networks, which they use to communicate with their families.

You have to enhance and improve everything that can be offered to a person on the go

Alvar Sanchez, Serna’s representative in Nador

Migration routes carry many threats. Program missing migrant The United Nations (Missing Migrants) estimates that 51,897 migrants have disappeared between 2014 and 2022: 2,011 in the Mediterranean, 895 in Africa, 1,227 in the Americas, 92 in West Asia, 479 in Asia and 145 in Europe.

One way to reduce the risk is for people who are traveling to have access to essential services and support. And autonomously if possible, something that the app encourages. In addition, Sanchez wants to expand the services provided by the application and include access to educational content for the youngest. “You have to enhance and improve everything that can be offered to a person on the move”, he concluded.

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