Monday 5 October 2015 2:57 pm

EU migrant crisis: How technology could help solve the refugee crisis

The migrant crisis has thrown up a challenge of vast proportions, affecting countries and aid organisations around the world. It is a global problem that requires a global solution. Technology must be at the heart of our response.

Over 350,000 asylum seekers are displaced and heading towards Europe and more than 2,500 have already died en route from unsafe transportation, disease and malnutrition. These figures will continue to soar if we fail to act effectively.

Recent estimates suggest that only one in every five migrants originate from Syria, with many more fleeing escalating conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia and South Sudan. Their destinations are widespread, involving many governments and organisations on nearly every continent.

Government agencies and aid organisations need greater insight into the crisis, but are struggling to wade through the wealth of information around the globe – from transportation data, medical institutions, border control and relief efforts on the ground.

Current relief efforts are running on imperfect information. Exact knowledge of refugee location, destination and their most pressing requirements in terms of aid, is currently based on uncoordinated data that’s shared on an ad-hoc basis between relief organisations. The fluid and fast-changing nature of the crisis means that this information is only accurate for a brief period of time.

Read more: Europe's refugee crisis explained

The international tech community has started to make great strides towards addressing this migration crisis. Apple and Google have both pledged millions of dollars in relief to refugees, while TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher has set up Techfugees, a non-profit conference and hackathon bringing together tech engineers, entrepreneurs and startups to address the crisis with technology.

Elsewhere, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has taken practical steps, by recently agreeing to bring Internet access to UN-coordinated refugee camps.

But so far tech has only addressed the problem at a top-down level. Emerging technology has to tackle the problem on the ground – to enable vast swathes of data from a diverse array of sources to be aggregated and filtered, with irrelevant information removed along the way.

Real involvement from the tech community has the potential to drastically improve the efficiency and accuracy of the aid on offer.

Read more; Why economics can prevent the refugee crisis from becoming even worse

By crunching data that’s uploaded at different sites across the globe – a process known as multi-centre ingest – technology has the potential to provide the real-time updates aid workers need to save lives. As such, emerging technologies could form a key new tool in the relief worker’s arsenal, providing highly accurate insight into migrant movements, affording a level of flexibility and reliability that ensures the most effective response.

Real-time tracking of the migration of people from country to country has the potential to avert many problems thrown up by the crisis and save countless lives.

The information would be instantly available across the globe, allowing the support network to evolve alongside the situation.This could combine the real-time analysis from the people and machines best placed to provide it and subsequently streamline concerted relief services.

We can ease the workload of the aid worker, and help to prevent further unnecessary deaths, by using the technology at our fingertips.

We must ensure the crisis never reaches the same proportion again. Technology should form a crucial part of this mitigation process, working to prevent future crises before they emerge.