Nine things Fluxx learnt at TechFugees


Last week Fluxx were at Mike Butcher’s TechFugees conference and hackathon, where the London tech community showed their support for refugees. After listening to a day of shocking, surprising and sometimes inspiring stories from people working on the front line, we spent a day building prototypes and MVPs of services that might help. Here’s what we learned:

1. After food and water tech is most important for those in refugee camps. 86% of young refugees in camps own a mobile and 50% use the internet more than once a day. Musafir Collective, who work in the Calais Jungle camp, explained that refugees don’t always need clothes or teddies – they can end up in landfill. Instead, they need SIM cards, electric points, WIFI hubs and plug boards. The United Nations refugee agency also distributes hundreds of thousands of specialist Sim cards to refugees.

2. Refugee camps aren’t safe, they’re dirty, there’s no dignity and they’re not temporary. So 64% of refugees are in cities not camps – that rises to 86% for Syrians. Sonia Ben Ali of Urban Refugees explained that historically, refugees can end up staying for 17 years in camps – limbo for longer than a murder conviction.

3. Almost 1% of all the people that attempt to cross the med die. Just one of the stats from UNHCR’s deep Refugee data portal. Why? Prof Hans Rosling asks ‘Why don’t refugees fly?’ and finds the answer in an obscure EU directive from 2001.

4. Smuggling of refugees to just Europe is worth US2.5b per year – that’s half the GDP of Eritrea; No wonder there are so many smugglers. They operate a referral system, 10% discount for each refugee you bring with you and free if you drive the boat. Adam Rodriques of Global Initiative is working on a mapping project; by understanding the migrant flows and the economics of the trafficking industry, we can better help migrants to stay safe.

5. Smugglers take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge. When refugees know the going rate and what they face, they can negotiate with smugglers and drive prices down. Already, information flowing through Facebook is encouraging refugees to go it alone, pushing down demand for people smuggling.

6. It’s really hard to raise money for refugee initiatives. The Nepal earthquake appeal raised 75m in weeks, while the UN’s refugees appeal so far has raised 23m in two years. Andrej Mahecic of UNHCR explained that the agency – responsible for over 2 million refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon – is only 40% funded.

7. There’s a lot of overlap. Just as Silicon Valley is full of lookalike ride-sharing or food delivery startups, we counted at least four “AirBnB for Refugees” initiatives (MyRefuge, Refugees Welcome, Refugee Hero, and Spare Room). It’s not a bad problem – a healthy ecosystem of people wanting to help is very welcome – and communication and events like TechFugees will help. Our hackathon project (more about that below) is an attempt to make project more visible and encourage collaboration.

8. 4bn people don’t have an accurate address. Giles Rhys Jones of What3Words talked about a problem that seems inexplicable in a country with accurate maps and postcodes. Refugee camps are blank on Google Maps, and refugees can’t describe where they’re living, or where help is needed. 40% of water points in Tanzania were lost when 18-digit lat/long addresses were recorded incorrectly. What3words is a startup that divides the world into 3m squares, each with a unique and human-friendly three word address. For example, the Fluxx office kitchen is – ironically – “upon.feast.maker” while the pub next door is “”.

9. It’s going to be a long slog. 11% of UK citizens say they’d house a refugee in their home, according to a YouGov poll taken shortly after photos of Aylan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach were published. But it’s a difficult process. Since launching in August, German charity Refugees Welcome have found new homes for 224 refugees.

At the hackathon we designed and launched – a simple way for social innovation start-ups – like the ones helping to make refugees lives better – highlight their work and get support from developers, funders, NGOs and other start-ups. If you’d like to contribute, please contact and we’ll add you to the list.

Techfugees was awesome, and we want to do more events and projects like this in future. If you’re interested in finding out about our work in social innovation, go to: 

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