#HackTheCamp: A hackathon ready to provide the refugee crisis with solutions

#HackTheCamp: A hackathon ready to provide the refugee crisis with solutions

Eleni Panayiotou

How can we improve living conditions for refugees? How can the access reliable information on their legal status?What kind of apart unities are available or can be created for refugees? How can we tap on the many skills that moving populations bring with them? How can populations in transit and local populations come closer and develop an intercultural dialogue?

These are some of the challenges that this remarkable event taking place in Athens is going to try and answer. Hack the Camp is a two part hackathon on refugee and integration challenges and Impact Hub Athens, the Onassis Cultural Centre and the U.S Embassy in Athens are supporting the hackathon.

OnAlert.gr was at the first part of the event which was held on October the 21 – 22 at Diplareios School. Opening remarks were by US Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt, Christos Carras Executive Director Onassis Cultural Centre and Sophie Lamprou Co – Founder Impact Hub Athens. During his address the US Ambassador called the refugee crisis “one of the world’s most pressing problems.”

The discussion “Framing the Challeges and Solutions” which followed, was attended by Timo Platsas Head of Public Relations and CSR; Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Microsoft, the Dean of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering NTUA, Nektarios Koziris, Thanasis Delligianni Educational programs of Open Tecnologies Alliance-GFOSS, economist Eman Al Bohtori and Nadina Christopoulou one of the founders of the network for women migrants “Melissa”.

Worth noting was the intervention by Eman Al Bohtori, an economist and refugee from Syria. Ms Al Bohtori showed the public her phone, with a damaged memory card stuck on the back of it and all data wiped from the card. The data on the card were photos of friends and family in Syria.

This is precisely one of the problems which the participants are asked to solve.

After this first weekend groups can submit their idea for an updated evaluation by 22 November. The second and final stage of Hack the Camp will be held on 2-4 December at Impact Hub Athens.

On the sidelines of this unique hackathon OnAlert spoke with Press Attache at the Athens US Embassy Karen Grissette

What is this event trying to achieve?

Here we have many people working together, from tech companies, from the community, all different kinds of people who have different parts of the refugee crisis they are trying to solve. They are bringing their problems and they are bringing their solutions and as they said in the panel, what the goal is, is to find a way, to find a lot of ways actually, for people to bring their real problems, like you heard from the Syrian refugee and help her find technical solutions to her day to day problems here.

When people hear about the refugee crisis they think about people who haven’t got any food, any clothes, and yet here we are playing with apps and mobile phones. How important is a technical problem really?

There are some problems that you can call technical that really impact people’s quality of life, so when Ms Al Bohtori says “I want a way to store my photos” that’s a real issue to have photo’s of your life in Syria, of your families and friends to make sure you don’t lose those when you travel on your journey away from your home. And plenty more practical reasons like finding a way to communicate with the people in the community you live in, so they are looking for a technical way. Several people from Afghanistan and Syria said we need a technical way to translate Greek in our day to day exchanges that we have with people because we don’t understand and that means they can’t get basic services and they can’t do basic things. So they already said that this is something we need to work on here at this hackathon. How can we find some technological solutions that are simple for translating Greek specifically into a whole variety of languages. And that is not a high tech solution it’s a low tech solution for a real everyday problem.

The US Ambassador quoted President Barack Obama during his speech as saying that “Greece, Germany and Italy should not take all the burden”. So, what are the United States doing for Greece’s refugee problem?

Well for the refugee problem globally and especially this particular problem here, what we see in Greece are refugees from Syria, from Afghanistan, but also from North Africa, we’ve given significant amount of funding, a new contribution of 50 million dollars for the World Bank and we are resettling 110,000 refugees in the coming year into the U.S from Syria alone. Over the past decades the United States has taken hundreds of thousands of refugees and we are going to continue to do so. The United States is built on refugees and migrants and we will continue to do that. With Greece we have a lot of projects that we are working on, this is one example. The United States is also the largest donor to the UNHCR, the High Commission for refugees which is a major humanitarian partner in Greece as well as other big international organisations and NGOs. The US is a major contributor to all and in some cases the biggest.