Shelley Taylor was in Silicon Valley in her native California on September 3, 2015 when she saw the shocking media image of the body of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned off the coast of Ali Hoca Buruna (Turkey). ). She, who also lost her son, felt the pain of this father as her own – the mother died with another son during the shipwreck – who fled Syria in the war. He feels he should try to help, he explains in a video call to this newspaper. In just one weekend he developed the RefAid application, which brings together all the help that NGOs provide to migrants. What makes it accessible is that it doesn’t require a permanent internet connection and it’s available in seven languages (Spanish, English, French, Farsi, Arabic, Russian and Ukrainian). “As long as you’ve downloaded it, it’s enough,” the founder clarifies. Although they already work in 50 countries and with 8,000 organizations, their goal now is to map public and community services around the world to help all vulnerable people.
Pregnant women who give birth in the forest are a good example of the need for an application like RefAid, explains Alvar Sánchez, a Jesuit stationed in Nador (Morocco), at the Diocesan Delegation for Caritas and Social Affairs (Cerna, by its acronym in French) . “We have a service in Morocco where we pick them up and take them to the hospital or even ask the ambulance to pick them up,” he says. However, due to the extremely vulnerable situation in which they find themselves, many “arrive in a camp where there are people who suddenly leave and return with vegetables, water or life jackets, not knowing that there is a hospital just 10 kilometers away can”. , he adds.
To avoid insurmountable situations, the application has several services such as the specific category for women or drinking water. For example, if you open it in Madrid and click on food, you will find a list of different soup kitchens such as that of the Autonomous Community itself or the Asociación Caridad de San Vicente de Paul. All with a brief description of opening hours and address. In addition, you can directly display a map with which you can search for nearby services.
RefAid is designed so that even people with low literacy levels can access it
From Nador, Morocco, Rodrigue Dombou, manager of Cerna’s shower and hygiene service for migrants, explains that the usefulness of this program lies in the autonomy it offers to people on the go: not only does it not require an internet connection, but it is also accessible to People who cannot read as the mobile phone can play the information out loud. Dombou is a migrant who made his journey from Cameroon to Morocco without the help of RefAid, so he is fully aware of the help such an app could have given him. “People travel like goods. You can’t go out or be seen. In countries like Morocco, where there is a minimum of services, it becomes very useful,” he assures. Now he teaches workshops on raising awareness and using the tool for the NGO, which also promotes it among migrants through social networks and word of mouth. As for the entities, they do it through conferences like Frontera Sur, which recently held one in Malaga, and organizations like Cáritas or Justicia y Paz came together.
RefAid is completely free for the user, but the entities have to pay for the usage license to include more services for the migrant. When Taylor was developing the software in 2015, he went to UNHCR and other NGOs like the British Red Cross and Caritas “to make sure people weren’t already doing this”. It is the first tool to include all service providers from local, national, international and governmental organizations. Although it’s no longer the only one, “most will close within a year of implementation or will only target a small area like a city or town,” explains Taylor. La Cerna, for example, opted for this tool “because it ultimately offers the greatest security,” explains Sánchez.
In 2017, a year after the launch of RefAid to the general public, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) dared to launch its MigrantApp project in its pilot version and in only three languages. In 2022, they restarted the initiative, this time with improvements: eight languages and the ability to make low-cost transfers. Unlike RefAid, this tool allows to know the whereabouts of migrants and family members. In his version, Taylor deliberately prevented it from being used to track people.
RefAid application interface created by Shelly Taylor. ASSIGNED IMAGE
The founder clarifies that an email is requested in order to be able to connect to the device and show users nearby services. “It can be fake and doesn’t require authentication, but it allows us to show the offer within a 500 meter radius. It also serves to allow providers to send direct messages to people in a geographic area,” argues Taylor. Sánchez assures that “people who arrive in 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 that they use to to communicate with their families.
You have to increase and improve everything that can be offered to a mobile human being
Alvar Sánchez, Delegate of the Cerna in Nador
Migration routes harbor many dangers. The UN Program on Missing Migrants estimates that 51,897 migrants went missing 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 mitigate hazards is to allow people on the move access to essential services and support. And as autonomous as possible, which promotes the application. In addition, Sánchez wants to expand the services offered by the application and include access to educational content for the youngest. “You have to expand and improve everything that can be offered to a mobile human being,” he concludes.
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