From apps to air miles: 7 ways tech can help Afghans

by Samuel George Baugh | @samuelbaugh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 27 August 2021 13:00 GMT

U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load passengers aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021. Picture taken August 24, 2021. U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/Handout via REUTERS

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Desperate scenes in Kabul are met with high-tech help as offers of rides, meals and beds go online

Harrowing footage of Afghans desperate to flee has prompted charities, companies and citizens worldwide to use everyday technology to help people caught in an extraordinary crisis.

Be it air miles or apps, ride shares or group messages, all sorts of online tools - many made for easier living - have been redeployed, either to re-settle refugees on the run or help those left behind.

Here are seven tech-enabled initiatives in play since the Taliban resumed control, 20 years after the group was last in power and long before the smartphone changed our daily life.

1. ACCOMMODATION

People have taken to social media to offer spare rooms as part of resettlement programmes, while home rental company Airbnb said on Tuesday it would provide temporary housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees worldwide.

The company said it began that process by placing 165 refugees in temporary accommodation after they arrived in the United States over the weekend, promising more details soon on how their hosts can get involved.

2. AIR MILES

U.S. charity Miles4Migrants has urged frequent flyers to donate air miles to cover fares for asylum seekers and refugees.

Spokesperson Annette Ross said people had already pledged twice the amount of miles raised in the past five years.

3. SECURITY ALERTS

Afghan-based start-up Ehtesab runs a mobile app that delivers live security alerts, notifying users about anything from traffic jams to roadblocks at their location, or more grave events such as bombings and fires. 

In July, as security concerns mounted, it crowdfunded to expand coverage outside Kabul and launch a text-based alert service for those who do not own a smartphone. 

4. DIGITAL FOOTPRINTS

Amid concerns the Taliban might use databases and digital trails to target journalists, activists, women and other vulnerable Afghans, rights groups are helping Afghans protect their online identities.

U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights First has published a guide on how to delete digital history. Digital rights group Access Now has also collected a number of similar resources.

5. LEGAL HELP

Human Rights First has set up an online form for lawyers wanting to provide pro bono assistance to Afghans in need of legal support related to immigration matters. 

Legal charity International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) has also been seeking donations to support legal aid services to fleeing Afghans.

6. AIRPORT PICK-UP

U.S. charity Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) has been asking people to donate time as well as money to help welcome Afghan refugees landing in the United States.

Volunteers can sign up to provide services like airport pick-ups, apartment set-ups, and bringing a meal.

7. PHONE CREDIT

Phones are vital for asylum seekers to talk with home, keep abreast of developments and navigate their way through borders and new countries.

British charity Phone Credit for Refugees (PC4R) allows people to donate phone credit to provide mobile top-ups to help refugees stay connected and keep safe.

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(Reporting by Samuel Baugh @samuelbaugh, Editing by Umberto Bacchi and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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