Britain's tech community links up with charities to help migrants with mobiles

Wed Oct 7, 2015 8:08pm EDT
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By Joseph D'Urso

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Frustrated by the lack of technological solutions to the European refugee crisis, a group of London-based techies has started working with charities to find ways to help people on the move, most of whom have mobile phones.

Mike Butcher, editor of TechCrunch, a technology news site, kickstarted the idea by organizing a one-day conference for people to showcase ideas to help refugees followed by a "hackathon" at which people write software collaboratively.

"I called up about five friends and then, like the A-team, off we went," said Butcher, who hopes the "Techfugees" project will be replicated around the world.

In an open-plan office in London, the team sat working on laptops surrounded by pizza boxes, a world away from the refugee camps and fences on Europe's borders in headlines this summer.

Photos of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi's body washed up on a Turkish beach triggered outrage about how most European governments have responded to the huge influx of migrants, leading to protests, clothing donations and fundraising events.

But unlike in Europe's last major refugee crisis after the Balkan wars in the early 1990s, most people on the move now have mobile phones, giving techies a way to use their skills to help.