Syrian refugees“Refugees Welcome.” When arriving in Germany this month, Syrian refugees who braved riots, deplorable travel conditions, and thousands of miles saw this statement written on a makeshift sign as a symbol of comfort, hope, and a new life. Nearly 5,000 refugees escape the horrors of the Syrian conflict every day, and the United Nations estimate that the total will reach 3.5 million by year’s end if this continues.

According to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHCR) Antonio Guterres during a recent press briefing in Geneva, “What is appalling is that the first million fled Syria during two years. The second million fled Syria in (the past) six months. We have now almost one-third of the Syria population that has been displaced, and half in need of assistance.”

Allowing such large numbers of people to resettle within their borders can be daunting for countries willing to help. How can they help refugees restart their lives effectively without draining their natural resources and civil infrastructure? Thankfully, the digital economy is here to help.

Four digital innovations that are making refugees feel welcome

Over the last couple weeks, European leaders have stepped up their support for welcoming refugees into their borders – from U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to Chancellor Angela Merkel and even President Obama. To turn these pledges into reality, many of these leaders are counting on not just on the generosity and good-hearted nature of their citizens, but also the promise of digital technology.

Here are just a few examples of the possibilities:

  1. Life-saving drones. The nongovernmental organization Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) is patrolling the Mediterranean Sea with drones, scanning for overcrowded boats of people fleeing to Greece and Italy. Within the first 60 days of use, 3,000 people were saved. And back in May, a collaborative effort between MOAS and the Italian Navy and Coast Guard saved an additional 6,700 people from overcrowded rubber dinghies. Sadly, there are not enough drones to save every refugee right now. Nevertheless, further investment and effort could potentially prevent the death toll seen in recent months.
  1. 3D printing that transforms medical aid. After a successfully 3D printing umbilical cord clips and oxygen-mask parts in Haiti with a 3D printer, Field Ready believes this increasingly popular and convenient technology can allow life-saving supplies to be made where and when they are needed. Considering that relief agencies typically spend as much as 80% of their income on logistics within complex supply chains, this one innovative approach can cut costs by 40%.
  1. Dignity and service through connectedness. In partnership with United Parcel Service (UPS), the office of the UNHCR is refining its processes supporting refugee registration, distribution, data collection, and tracking. Free of charge, UPS is turning its familiar mobile software Trackpad into ReliefLink specifically for the UNHCR. This software provides visibility into what services and food items each household received and when and whether families did not show up for distribution or living elsewhere.
  1. A (digital) classroom for more than 1 million refugee children. UNICEF recently revealed that more than half of the refugee population are children. These are children who through no fault of their own no longer have the normal childhood they enjoyed two years ago – playing with friends, living in a home, and going to school. With massive open online courseware (MOOCs), they can continue their education online from anywhere in the world free of charge. The key is making sure that everyone has the Internet access and mobile devices. Nevertheless, an online version of the Arabic Syrian curriculum and light download capabilities could help reach thousands and secure a bright future for them.

But this is only part of the story. Refugees are also using digital technology to navigate their way to a better life and peaceful home. Check out Danielle’s Beurteaux blog “Tech Helping Refugees Find Their Way.”