Joe Dignan
Joe Dignan (European Head, IDC Government Insights)
Louisa Barker
Louisa Barker (Research Manager, IDC Government Insights)

The UN estimates that more than 2.15 million Ukrainian refugees have been forced to flee their homes and seek safety as a result of the Russian invasion. This is expected to reach up to 4 million as the situation unfolds. This is one of the largest and fastest refugee movements in Europe since the end of World War II. Poland is currently receiving the largest number of refugees, but many will move on to family and friends living across Europe. This will put enormous pressure on border controls. This blog provides examples of some of the technologies that have previously been leveraged to support displaced populations.

Short term, refugees will need food, water, medical assistance, temporary shelter and internet access to keep in contact with friends and family, and information on critical next steps. The EU has granted Ukrainian refugees the right to live and work and to access healthcare, housing and education immediately for up to one year, without the need to go through asylum procedures, with the option to extend this for up to two years. Individual countries are also passing supplementary measures that will require the rapid mobilisation of resources to scale up public services and infrastructure.

If the invasion extends, refugees will no longer see their situation as temporary and will look to put down roots. When they arrive at a more permanent location, they will need support to find a place to live and work, access local services and connect with local communities.

Technology is by no means the panacea, but it can support governments to more effectively and empathetically address the short- and longer-term needs of refugees and provide direct resources to displaced individuals.

Situational Awareness

Multilateral organisations such as the UN, NGOs and host governments are increasingly using geospatial data in the governance of humanitarian emergencies, including satellite and aerial imagery, anonymised mobile phone data and geolocated social media activity. This Big Data can provide a faster view of the reality on the ground and can fill in some of the gaps in more traditional data sources such as surveys. For example, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research uses satellite imagery to map refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere to support humanitarian relief. Careful consideration must be given to privacy and ethics when deploying these technologies.

Identity Management

Refugees often arrive without identity papers or access to funds. Verifying identity for border control, public services, cash-based interventions or financial services is one of the most complex issues for host countries and refugees. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHRC, has taken steps to strengthen its secure digital identity system based on biometric data for its own case management as well as other service providers. Digital identity became more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic when the agency increased digital service delivery. Identity verification is a critical but sensitive issue for refugees and there are ongoing discussions on how to conduct this empathetically and effectively. European governments are currently grappling with these challenges.

Fintech companies are also starting to provide digital wallets with identity verification. Everest, a global payment platform underpinned by blockchain technology, is partnering with the Indonesian government to pilot identity verification for subsidy programmes.

Accessing Public Services

It is challenging for refugees to access information on available services. Collaborative information platforms play a prominent role in the lives of refugees. For example, to support refugees moving to Europe from MENA, a location-based RefugeeAid app was developed to help people track the nearest relief services such as food, healthcare and legal help; 400 non-profit organisations are currently using the platform. Services have already been added for Ukrainian refugees.

Some platforms are also integrating chatbots, enabled by advances in natural language processing. For example, Miss Migration provides migrants in Myanmar and Nepal with accurate information on migrant rights and processes. These bots should not be seen as replacements for face-to-face contact but as a supplementary channel.

Many refugees arrive with short- and longer-term medical needs. On the island of Lesbos, local universities, NGOs and tech firms have partnered to provide telehealth services to refugee camps. Specialists from more than 20 disciplines connect for one hour a day for online consultations, making it quicker and easier to access specialist expertise. Telehealth and other technologies such as RPA also have the potential to boost the capacity of mainstream public services as governments work to integrate refugees into their networks. These public service digital transformations were already underway in several governments, accelerated by COVID-19 and the NextGenEU recovery funding.

These are just a handful of examples of how technology can be leveraged to support refugees. There is a clear opportunity for governments, NGOs and the private sector to work together to improve the lives of the displaced Ukrainian population. Several tech companies — from large firms to start-ups — are already offering their services and employee skills.

IDC European Government Insights will continue to monitor the use of technology in responding to the crisis. Do you have examples of how technology can be used to support displaced populations?

Get in touch:

Louisa Barker:

Joe Dignan:

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