Using Big Data to Find Solutions to the Refugee Crisis

Published Apr-30-18

Big data's growing role in solving a global humanitarian crisis.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Switzerland

The Story:

Using Big Data to Find Solutions to the Refugee Crisis The number of refugees around the world is truly shocking. According to figures by the UNHCR the UN Refugee Agency, there are currently around 22.5 million people who have fled countries such as Syria, South Sudan and Myanmar because of famine, civil war and ethnic cleansing. More than half of all refugees are under the age of 18. Additionally, there are 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality. Consequently, the world is now witnessing the highest levels of displacement it has ever seen.

There are many challenges to overcome and adequate solutions are not easy to find. But big data and artificial intelligence can help.

Joint Data Center

In April 2018 UNHCR and the World Bank signed an agreement to establish a new center that aims to improve the collection, analysis and dissemination of refugee-related data. Among the purposes of this initiative are to improve the global response to the crisis, inform policymakers and policies and better assist people in need. The overarching mission of this Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement is "timely and evidence-informed decisions that can improve the lives of affected people."

The center has already been crunching numbers to help refugees. In 2016 UNHCR discovered that millions of Syrian children were missing school in their host countries. In order to integrate them into a particular country's education system, it needed national data it didn’t possess. However, the World Bank did have that information and so the two organizations came together which resulted in a big increase in the number of children attending school.

AI and Asylum Processes

Significant results have been coming in from elsewhere too. During 2015 Germany received more than 1.5 million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq which put a huge strain on the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, which oversees the asylum process and helps to integrate refugees into German society. It uses artificial intelligence for identity verification and security.

If a refugee arrives without an ID card, an AI speech module analyzes the origin of their accent to help determine that they come from where they say they do. The module can detect the correct accent with 80% accuracy. AI can also link a person's name with the country of origin. This system helps to raise red flags for authorities to investigate further but it's also of benefit to refugees because it can verify that they have been truthful. In situations where members of the public are hostile toward them, this helps assuage concerns.

The Refugee Project

Another example is The Refugee Project which collated 40 years’ worth of refugee data into one database and created a visual interface to aid comprehension of the enormity and complexity of the crisis. This is improving global knowledge on refugees, but it’s not knowledge for knowledge's sake because it can help with cross-border collaboration to alleviate suffering.

Finding Smarter Solutions

There is still a very long way to go to solve the refugee crisis but big data and AI are helping to make headway. Advances in their processes and how they are applied will lead to ever smarter solutions that will improve the lives of those in dire need.

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