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    Is Finland's 'Techfugee' Mobile App the Answer to Europe's Migrant Crisis?

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    Major Migrant Crisis in Europe (1819)

    Finland receives the fourth highest number of asylum seekers in Europe. Around 32,000 migrants arrived in the Nordic country in 2015, compared with just 3,600 the year before.

    The government recently implemented new measures, requiring asylum seekers to work for free and follow a "national curriculum" on Finnish culture and society with lessons on how they should behave in public.

    In order to roll out the program, technology firm Funzi launched an online guide for asylum seekers for smartphones.

    "We are in the technological age of asylum seeking," Aape Pohjavirta, co-founder of Funzi told Sputnik.

    "And Internet mobile is often the only thing an asylum seeker has. They use is to connect to maps, their family, they use it for survival."

    Pohjavirta makes the case that mobile smart phones could be seen as a solution to the refugee crisis in Europe where more than a million migrants and asylum seekers have settled in the last year.

    This is the first crisis in the history of humanity where mobile Internet is playing a key role, Pohjavirta told Sputnik.
    © AP Photo / Darko Vojinovic
    "This is the first crisis in the history of humanity where mobile Internet is playing a key role," Pohjavirta told Sputnik.

    "This means it should be used as a tool for change. There are groups of tech startup activists who get this — but many people in the humanitarian aid sector don't yet understand the potential".


    A number of technology experts in the industry have formed a series of not for profit 'Techfugees' conferences to encourage Silicon Valley style startups to collaborate with each other and build mobile services for refugees.

    "Mike Butcher from Techcrunch wants to activate the startup communities to become an integral part of solving the refugee crisis," Aape Pohjavirta, co-founder of Funzi told Sputnik.

    "Techfugees represent services that can be used on smartphones and services, like Funzi, which I believe can help solve the problem. I think the solution to the refugee crisis will come from this community."

    'We Don't Judge, We Remain Neutral, We Don't Take Sides'

    The website and mobile app were launched at the beginning of 2016, in collaboration with the Finnish Immigration Service and includes five learning courses about Finland and steps on how to navigate the country's immigration process.

    "We had 2,500 new users in two days, suggesting around ten percent of asylum seekers in Finland have signed up to the service, which means the take up is really fast."

    "The beauty of mobile Internet services is that it scales up very well. We are seasoned tech startup companies — we know how to build stuff that works, having 100 million users is possible — look at Angry Birds. We are digital engineers in the mobile sector — and we're pretty good at it, Aape Pohjavirta, co-founder of Funzi told Sputnik.

    The conduct of some asylum seekers has been placed under scrutiny in Finland, following complaints from women that migrants had groped their breasts and kissed them without permission on New Year's Eve.

    "This phenomenon is new in Finnish sexual crime history," Ikka Koskimaki, deputy chief of police in Helsinki told London newspaper The Telegraph. 

    Learn about sexual equality and sexual health and rights in Finland with Funzi and Finnish Immigration ServiceThe…

    Posted by Funzi on Tuesday, January 12, 2016

    Funzi, the company behind the mobile learning site for asylum seekers recently posted on their Facebook page: "Learn about sexual equality and sexual health and rights in Finland with Funzi and the Finnish Immigration Service.

    "The course topics are Finnish legislation and relationship, sexuality and the act of sex, sex education, sexual violence and harassment and taking care of sexual health."

    The content of the website is based on official information from the Finnish immigration office. "We are a tool to deliver that information," Aape Pohjavirta told Sputnik.

    "We don't judge, we remain neutral, we don't take sides. We collaborated with the Finnish authorities and representatives from many organizations to address issues around the subject of sexual health and sexual harassment and behavior."

    As a privately funded European Union organization, the company stores and manages analytics and data in accordance with EU law.

    "Our analysis of the data doesn't allow us to individualize certain behavioral patterns."

    "It's available in Arabic and we plan to roll out the information in six or seven more languages.

    "Germany and Turkey are key markets for us. They're the countries who will decide what's going to happen in the future of the refugee crisis. By the end of 2016, we hope to launch a similar service in the Middle East and other countries in the European Union," Pohjavirta told Sputnik.

    Responding to the Refugee Crisis Digitally

    Looking at the reality of the refugee crisis through virtual eyes, Aape Pohjavirta suggests there are three separate aspects to the problem.

    "Firstly, there is the need for assistance, humanitarian aid, support, shelter, food and information.

    "Secondly, it's about delivering skills and this is where you can use smartphones to educate refugees and asylum seekers to become more employable through a faster route than the classical method of education."

    "Thirdly, if asylum seekers are returning to their country of origin, we need to teach and educate these people so they can go back as leaders of their own communities, to make their society better," he said.  

    "In the digital world, we should create services for people regardless of where they are. There needs to be a concept of nation building when you start implementing digital services into the refugee crisis."

    Adopting a different approach to the one offered by 'Techfugees' to tackle the refugee crisis, people in Finland who are concerned about the increased numbers of migrants arriving in the country have taken to the streets.

    Unarmed militia groups wearing black jackets and hats carrying the emblem "Soldiers of Odin" have emerged in towns across Finland, where asylum seekers are living.

    The group claim they want to protect citizens from "Islamic intruders." Finnish interior minister Petteri Orpo has condemned their actions.

    Major Migrant Crisis in Europe (1819)


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    startup, refugee crisis, anti-immigration protests, asylum seekers, website, sexual assault, education, mobile app, society, policy, technology, migrants, digital, Internet, Europe, Finland
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