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Learning from one another for effective crisis relief

In a recent article in Wired Magazine, Julian Sancton argues, “Refugees Are More Connected Than Ever. Rescuers Must Be Too.” From the beginning of my involvement in the refugee crisis back in September, I was frustrated by the lack of technology tools geared towards people like myself--people looking to support local efforts and learn from others in the field. I have to agree with Sancton who writes, “Facebook is a fine place to start, but it’s not at all optimized for efficiency or comprehensiveness.“ In this blog piece, I speak first hand about the value and potential for tools like refugeeprojects.com to facilitate coordination and learning among the hundreds of thousands of volunteers like myself.

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One of the Syrian families that had been staying near me in the Languedoc region of France, had unexpectedly and arbitrarily been "Dublinized". If you aren't familiar with the Dublin Regulations, it basically means that wherever refugees land in France is their “first port of entry”. People are required to apply for asylum where they first touch European soil. These regulations have been eased in many parts of Europe, and are really up to the discretion of the local Préfecture in France.

The father of the family had his fingerprints taken in Spain on the way north, and so the local Prefecture decided to send this family of five back to Spain, in fact, denying them the right to even apply for asylum in France.

Turning to RefugeeProjects.Com

Our local group was outraged. We'd all come to care deeply about this family of five. The mother speaks French and they are all very close with another Syrian family who lives here. We wanted to figure out the best way to appeal this decision.

I knew we weren't the first ones to fight a "Dublin" decision but I wasn't quite sure where to start. So I turned to Refugee Projects to see what else was out there. Within a few minutes, I had identified some key resources.

  • Policy and legal initiatives working to improve how Europe processes asylum cases.
  • Grassroots groups across France (and elsewhere) that had also appealed in similar circumstances.
  • Organizations in Madrid who could provide support to this family if they were indeed forced to claim asylum in Spain.
  • Communications efforts to help us spread the word. I have spent the past week conversing with leaders from each of the above groups. They have provided invaluable advice for my team and words of comfort for this family in their time of need.
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How can we make it easier to learn from one another?

Within the tech community, we hear a great deal about the need for centralizing data to avoid duplication of efforts. Cate Laurene writes, "What seems to be most crucial is to offer a centralized space to collate all the initiatives internationally and allow them to collaborate."

At Prosper, we see this need for a centralized space to foster collaboration as much broader than technology. The need to learn from one another also applies to all of us who are working locally to support refugees and asylum seekers. It applies to the volunteers in the camps, the German teachers, the healthcare workers, the emergency aid providers. It applies to all of us who are tired of re-inventing the wheel, but don’t know where to find resources.

Knowing what’s out there

We hear a great deal about the need for innovation in this crisis...but how can we determine WHERE we need innovation without having an overview of landscape of projects that already exist?

Julian Sancton writes, “For all the xenophobic sentiment metastasizing around Europe and America, there are millions of European citizens who are ready and even eager to offer their support, if only they knew how.”

We believe that Refugeeprojects.com can leverage the human power of these millions of potential volunteers by making it easy for them to find projects to support remotely, on the ground, or financially.

Imagine a centralized forum where we wouldn't have to troll through Facebook's unwieldy search functionality to locate a group supporting refugees in Pamplona. Where we could easily access success stories and researchers and people directly impacted by policies like the Dublin Regulations. Where a volunteer in London could find out the least expensive way to ship a donation of socks from Melbourne. Where a vetted aid worker in Chios could make an urgent appeal for press coverage because NGOs are not allowed to bring baby formula into the camp. These are all examples of coordination efforts I have witnessed in the past week alone.

We are in a time of crisis. But sadly, this crisis is not one that is going to end in the foreseeable future. We need to build systems that allow us to work collectively and coordinate across sectors. We need to stop talking about collaboration, and invest the resources to make it happen.

We are currently looking for investors and financial support to build on our prototype at RefugeeProjects.com and to develop a long-term sustainable platform. Please contact us for more information and to read our Case for Support.

Natasha Freidus

Natasha Freidus is a consultant and trainer leveraging new media tools for social change. She currently lives in France where she volunteers with a local refugee solidarity effort.

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