Four AI-Powered Technologies Aimed at Helping Refugees

By Didem Tali, Contributor

The world faces its largest displacement crisis since World War II. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an unprecedented number—69 million people worldwide—have left their homes. Among them are over 25 million refugees, some forced to flee because of persecution, war, or violence.

Confronting the realities of climate change, which is expected to displace 2 billion people in the next 83 years, and conflicts around the world, these numbers are expected to rise. However, new innovations in artificial intelligence can help relieve some of these hardships by supporting displaced communities in many ways. Take Refugee Text, which taps into mobile networks to provide crucial information to refugees via automated message, or a new AI algorithm developed by Stanford scientists that places refugees in jobs, helping integrate families into unfamiliar societies. During a time when one person is displaced every two seconds, these technologies are a way to aid people in flux.

Below is a deeper look at four AI technologies providing life-changing philanthropic support.

Free Legal Aid

Initially a “robot lawyer” chatbot that helped people overturn parking tickets, DoNotPay today provides free legal advice to refugees through intelligent algorithms.

Via Facebook Messenger, the DoNotPay bot asks users a series of questions to better understand whether the refugee’s situation —whether they are facing persecution, risk of being tortured, or other dangers back home—and gives them the customized legal help they need, such as helping them through the asylum application process.

Psychological Support

Often having faced traumatic events like conflicts, famines, or natural disasters, it’s no surprise that millions of refugees are at a higher risk for mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress, depression, and psychosis. While mental health is a critical aspect of the refugees’ well-being, with limited resources or differing language skills, access to help is sometimes problematic.

“There are barely any mental-health services in refugee camps,” Eugene Bann, co-founder of the Silicon Valley startup X2AI, told the Guardian in 2016. “People have depression, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness, and fear of the unknown.”

In response, Bann and his team developed Karim, an intelligent chatbot that has personalized text message conversations which provide conversations for emotional support in Arabic. Using natural language processing, the chatbot is designed to mimic a natural conversation with a friend. (With 11 million Syrians fleeing their homes since 2011 and over 5.5 million Palestinian refugees, Arabic is one of the most commonly-spoken languages among refugees.)X2AI partnered with Field Innovation Team, a humanitarian organization that responds to natural and man-made disasters, to make Karim available to both refugees and aid workers.

Sprouted from the team’s English-language product Tess, Karim has continued to provide psychological support to Arabic-speaking refugees since 2016.

Finding the Right Home

When refugees have meaningful employment in their host countries, everyone benefits. According to McKinsey, successfully integrating refugees into Europe is expected to deliver an overall GDP contribution of €60 – 70 billion annually by 2025. It could further rejuvenate the aging demographics of Europe.

At Stanford’s Immigration Lab Policy, researchers found that depending on a refugee’s individual characteristics, such as education level and English knowledge—where they settled influenced how well they fared. To boost the employment spike, researchers developed a machine learning algorithm to help governments and resettlement agencies find the best places for refugees to relocate. By analyzing historical data, as well as the educational and occupational backgrounds of the refugees, the algorithm helps facilitate this placement. It places refugees with places where their skillset is more in demand.

Science magazine predicts the algorithm will help increase employment by anywhere from 40 to 70 percent. The first country to implement this new technology, Switzerland is set to use this method for assigning asylum seekers to areas across the country beginning this autumn.

Fostering Connections

When refugees cross borders, they bring their talents, skills, and aspirations. However, many struggle to find relevant employment and often rely on social networks or government services to find jobs, which means opportunities might depend on where they physically end up, or the size of their social network.

“This results in a situation where refugees follow a training or do a job which is not in line with their profiles for the simple reason that any opportunity is often preferred to none,” Ghida Ibrahim, an engineer who founded Rafiqi , wrote. “Manually finding the right matches reveals to be a challenging and lengthy process.”

Meaning “my companion” in Arabic, Rafiqi taps into AI technologies to connect refugees to mentors and opportunities, with the goal of easing integration. The web-based platform keeps investigating opportunities available for refugees and uses the refugees’ background data to match them with mentors, job, or training opportunities. A newly developed solution, Rafiqi is currently available to a group of refugees in London and Berlin and the company is planning to extend around Europe.

While the number of displaced people are at a historic high, so is the level of technology that can help these individuals increase their quality of life. From simple chatbots to more sophisticated algorithms, AI is poised to change the ways the world engages with refugees.