There’s no question that the current migrant crisis is pushing Europe to breaking point, as the number of refugees and migrants seeking asylum in Europe approaches a figure not seen since 1992, when conflict in the Balkans drove refugees to Western Europe. Governments are facing increasing pressure from the public to accept more migrants, and yet they are doubtful as to whether their countries can handle the dramatic influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
Although this is undoubtedly a crisis, it is highlighting the empathetic nature of European citizens, who are taking to social media to declare #RefugeesWelcome.
Indeed, technology is playing a pivotal role in the humanitarian aid that is being offered. A Berlin-based site named Refugees Welcome, for instance, has created an “Airbnb for refugees”. Through the site, German citizens can either offer refugees a place to stay, or they can sponsor a month’s worth of rent. The site also works in Austria, and over 20 countries in total have set up their own ‘Refugees Welcome’ site.
International aid organisations are also getting involved. Realising that migrants are relying on smartphones to both make the journey and stay in touch with loved ones back home, organisations are offering help. A United Nations office in Jordan, for example, is handing out free SIM cards; and in Lebanon and northern Iraq, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has given out thousands of solar-powered chargers.
While charitable Europeans are turning to technology to help refugees, governments are using it to try and stem the flow of migrants, due to fears that their country cannot support such mass migration.
Hungary and Bulgaria are both considering erecting steel security fences on their boarders, similar to those that Israel use on their border with Egypt. The fences are not only tall and imposing structures, topped with razor wire, but they are also technologically enhanced, using sophisticated electronic defences.
On a more general level, many governments are turning toward technology to improve their current immigration systems. New technology was unveiled at the Paris Air show in June that aims to improve airport immigration. The technology, which will be tested in France this month, will use robots to scan passengers’ faces and irises at check-in and immigration, sift through records to check against 300 ‘warning signs’, and alert staff to ‘danger suspects’ who could be trying to enter the country illegally.
The US, who have long-struggled with the issue of immigration, are also turning to technology to update their immigration system. In an attempt to modernise, at the end of August the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) unplugged their legacy Electronic Immigration System that processes web-based applications for immigration benefits, and replaced it with a new system. This new system provides improved security, privacy, fraud and criminal activity detection, online payment options, and real-time connections to other government systems.
It seems then that technology is a double-edged sword for governments that are trying to get a grip on the migration crisis. Although technology is arguably enabling migration by offering help and aid to refugees, it can also be a force for good for governments who want to gain better control of their borders.