Google has launched an open-source project in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps to help Syrian and other refugees navigate language, transportation, lodging and other issues in the countries they arrive in.
The effort is dubbed Crisis Info Hub and is designed to disseminate critical information in a mobile-friendly manner to refugees from the Middle East and northern Africa seeking shelter in Europe.
The project is already live in the Greek island of Lesvos, which is considered the Ground Zero of the refugee crisis engulfing the continent. Refugees arriving in Lesvos can use their smartphones to quickly get information from Crisis Info Hub on what to expect when they land on the island, the registration process, the location of the registration centers and how to get there.
The hub provides extensive details on the modes of transportation that are available to the new arrivals, the fares for each mode and even tips for those who choose to, or are forced to, walk to the registration centers.
“If you choose to walk, along the road for the first 23km there are water taps where you can access free water. Tap water in Greece is safe to drink. You will not get sick,” says one tip.
Similarly detailed information is available on where refugees can find primary health care, as well as emergency and specialty services. Plus, there is a list of open pharmacies, currency exchange rates, and money transfer and exchange centers.
In a blog post Friday, Jacquelline Fuller, the director of Google.org, said Google has been working with humanitarian organizations in the region to better understand how technology can be applied to alleviate some of the problems caused by the flood of refugees.
“One issue identified was the lack of timely, hyperlocal information for refugees,” Fuller wrote. “Crisis Info Hub is providing refugees—most of whom carry smartphones—with critical information for their journeys: lodging, transportation, medical facilities, etc.”
Google is also working with NetHope to enable wider and more reliable network connectivity in the region so refugees can access crucial information when they need it most, Fuller said. NetHope is a nonprofit organization that is actively engaged in enabling WiFi and cellular connectivity and in providing charging stations to help Syrian refugees remain in touch with families as they migrate.
As part of its effort to help refugees migrating to different European countries, Google has also been improving its Google Translate language translation tool, Fuller said. She pointed to the company’s recent addition of Arabic for instant visual translation from German or English as one example. The effort was spurred by the fivefold growth in demand for Arabic translations in Germany just this year, Fuller noted in the blog.
“We’re also asking anyone who knows the languages spoken by refugees or the countries they’re traveling through to help us improve translations” through Google’s Translate Community, she added.
Google has so far contributed €5 million in grants to support projects such as the setting up of wireless connectivity in refugee camps and providing emergency cash transfers to refugees in other regions like Lebanon and Jordan. The €5 million that Google has donated to the effort so far is the company’s promised matching contribution after its appeal one month ago for donations raised €5 million in just 48 hours, Fuller said.