THE BLOG

Diving Into The Digital Lives of Refugees

19/06/2015 21:58 BST | Updated 19/06/2016 10:59 BST

59.5 million people across our shared planet will bed down tonight with heads resting on a cold pillow made up of fear, uncertainty and stress. 59.5 million people; that equates one out of every 122 people in this world: 59 million children, siblings, mothers and fathers, forced to flee the sanctity of their homes; running from murder, starvation and oppression.

We're no longer talking about a refugee crisis, but rather an enormous wave of human displacement and suffering that is sweeping across all shores. And faced with this, there is one question we all need to ask ourselves: What would our hopes be if this were us? What would you wish from your fellow human beings if it was you handing your terrified 4-year-old daughter across a barbed wire fence, hoping that a kind stranger will take her and lead her to safety, while you stay back and surrender to the injustices visited upon you? Only those stating they would prefer their child delivered into uncertainty have the personal freedom to disregard the call of those pleading for help. But remember this: A man who has never known the soul-crushing defeat of powerlessness, of truly being at the mercy of evil, should not take it upon himself to judge the plight of those who have. We simply do not know.

Faced with 59.5 million forcibly displaced people also forces the world to reconsider how we position ourselves in creating a future that does not become a holding pattern for misery, but rather a movement where we make the best of what we have.

59.5 million people is not a "problem" that can be contained, but rather a mass-migration that will, whether we like or not, permeate all lives in almost all places. The lingering question is: what do we want from it?

The perception of old that refugee crises were a temporary inconvenience has been shattered by data showing that, on average, a refugee will spend 12 years in a camp. 12 years that can either be spent waiting in line for the next handout, or spent engaged in building something into and out of this enormous group. Where the engagement has mostly been a monologue over the past many years, the future, starting now, will be much more of a dialogue; a give and take in how we engage with, and understand, each other.

The most significant bridges being built in this very moment are digital; never before has the brutal reality so many endure been so close to our homes and hearts as now, where mobile technology connects many of us across widely separate locations and walks of life.

Compassion knows no distance and only callousness takes refuge in the shelter of out of sight, out of mind. And the deeper we bond through the vicarious nature of real-time updates, the deeper we should connect to each other, with all that brings.

At REFUNITE, having helped more than 400.000 refugees who are searching for missing loved ones onto our family tracing platform and reconnecting thousands of family members, we, and our partners at Ericsson, spend our days digging as deeply as we can into the digital lives of refugees. Trying to understand how we can engage in a conversation that will enable us to help them better; not by us intervening and doing the help for them, but by building tools that enable and empower displaced people to help themselves.

Now is a time to realize as well that more sustainable structures must be built into the ways we help those around us struck by displacement. It is no longer feasible, or even possible, to find the billions of dollars that are needed every year to support nearly 60 million people. It is time to define what kind of world we want to build for the 30 million children displaced. If not for them, then do it for yourself. Disregarding the humanity in all this, it's simple math: 30 million unaided, traumatized and broken children grow up to become 30 million unaided, traumatized and broken adults, struggling to find meaning in, and compassion for, a world that left them to die.

In the cross-section between people and technology, a smarter and more connected way forward can be found. A way to understand each others' realities, and individually support those struck by displacement with better education, access to life-saving information and the dignity to make informed decisions on one's own behalf, even, or actually because, as a refugee, your dignity is all you have left in this world.

And in this dignity, in this enabling of our fellow man, must be found more sustainable ways to help the displaced build lives for themselves: to build schools and businesses, to build a sustainable income and support networks - to build valued and valuable human beings.

Join us in helping 1 million refugees sign up to refunite.org to help them with their search for missing families. Join us in building a truly global and borderless community in support of our fellow human beings who may for now have lost almost everything, but to whom we owe the support to rebuild a life as fulfilling as what we have been granted.