As the pressure mounts on European countries to create and maintain a stable environment for the continuing influx of refugees, some in the tech world are focusing on what is considered a luxury in the chaotic process of leaving a war-torn region: internet access.
Google announced on Monday that it will pledge $5.3 million in Chromebooks for refugees in Germany. The laptops will go to nonprofit aid organizations as part of Project Reconnect, which is run by NetHope (a consortium of NGOs that focuses on improving connectivity in areas affected by disaster). Google’s blog reads:
Last fall, we shared how we’re supporting organizations on the frontline of providing essential humanitarian relief support. But we also wanted to do something to help with refugees’ long-term challenges, such as the need for access to information and education. So today, we’re making a $5.3 million Google.org grant to support the launch of Project Reconnect, a program by NetHope to equip nonprofits working with refugees in Germany with Chromebooks, in order to facilitate easier access to education…
Indeed, the company has taken a few strides over the last six months to aid in the connectivity of refugees, notably by building a mobile-friendly website with information regarding shelter facilities, registration, currency, etc. And its Crisis Info Hub aims at enabling people with smartphones to access information regarding transport and other aid.
But the 25,000 Chromebooks that NetHope is purchasing with the equipped education and language learning apps won’t be of much use without internet access. Wired reports that Deutsche Telekom — Germany’s largest telco — is giving the recipients of Project Reconnect’s grants a discount on broadband access. These efforts will make it easier for the NGOs to set up internet hubs rather than try to blanket access across entire refugee camps or regions.
Internet connectivity for refugees is also a focus in Canada, where a new online portal dubbed HOME seeks to connect donors with refugees. The portal was commissioned by the city of Toronto, and will offer information such as housing and furniture services.
As companies like Google and others web giants (Facebook has pledged help to aid organizations too, and smaller groups are launching hackathons and innovation hubs) look to connect people in places where even access to basic healthcare is of great concern, the hope is that by maintaining a modicum of web access, refugees will assimilate better into new cultures, and establishing new lives will be less burdensome. These efforts also speak to the increasing view that access to the internet is a human right, rather than a luxury.