The number of refugees worldwide is at a record high. As of June 2018, 70.4million people were forcibly displaced around the globe as a result of persecution, conflict or violence. Experts predict that this number is set to rise and that by 2050, there will be up to 1 billion people on the move as a result of climate change alone. Almost half of all migrants are women and more children are migrating alone, making the terrifying and even deadly journey by themselves.

Becoming a displaced person does not just mean losing your home; it means becoming disconnected from friends, community, the education system and the national health system. It can also mean losing legal rights. For instance, approximately 1.5 billion people have unmet legal needs because of lack of access, poor quality, or bureaucracy issues such as insufficient procedures, durations or subsequent outcomes. In addition, the rise of the fourth industrial revolution is changing the way we work, altering roles and leading to an increase in new, informal working patterns that have the potential to leave people unprotected as they lose their stable wage employment and social safety nets.

Being a refugee can be deeply traumatic and leaves individuals vulnerable and yet inability to access social care systems only serves to exacerbate the problem. For example, in 2017, 3% of refugees were over 60 years of age, yet many of these older persons face barriers to accessing food and non-food item (NFI) distributions and obstacles to accessing water and fuel. This is despite the fact that older persons also face heightened risk of human rights abuses, including violence, exploitation and abuse; as well as restrictions on the right to work and the right to health. 

All of these factors mean that being displaced can affect the achievement and well-being of the person once they have arrived at their destination and for their whole lives. This is because the simple mechanisms and infrastructure to help displaced people set themselves up with new lives, jobs and social support, is simply not there. 

However, if displaced people of all ages are able to access social care such as health, education and legal systems, the resulting support systems could ease the trauma of leaving their home and help them find their feet again. This enables the individual to go on to live a full and happy life without the migration defining them.  

Ruth Stark, president of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), says social work and its ability to ensure displaced people remain connected to social infrastructure is vital. The profession exists to help people work through changes in their lives – and refugees are experiencing some of the most traumatic changes imaginable. 

Whilst social work in displacement camps often focuses on survival, it becomes far more complex once the person or family enter a country in which they wish to remain. In Germany for instance, one of the most welcoming communities to refugees, Gabriele Stark-Angermeier, deputy chief executive of welfare organisation Caritas explains that the role of social work for refugees coming to Munich has included helping gain access health services, reuniting family members and getting volunteers to teach German. As Stark says, “social work is about people settling into new communities and how these communities will adapt”.

A major contributing factor to how a person settles is their ability to access their new community. Therefore, refugees had access to technology, the resulting connectivity to social care systems could help people rebuild their lives and accelerate inclusion. This is because identification is one of the key barriers to enabling access to social care. Currently 1.1 billion people live without an officially recognised identity, depriving them of protection, access to services and basic rights. As Jane Meseck, Senior Director of Global Programs for Microsoft Philanthropies explains; “Digital identity is not only a person’s name. It’s also about what comes with that — the services I am eligible for, the education that I am certified for and the different things that layer on top of having an identity. If I’m a refugee, it’s critical that I can transfer my identification with me when I move from country to country and service provider to service provider.” 

Technology can help bridge this gap, enabling aid organisations and relief workers gain access to refugee information and whereabouts, helping to deliver assistance and aid where it’s most needed. As such, technology can be the difference between displaced people getting back on track and becoming lost in the system.

Given the scale of the issue of displacement, innovative ideas that facilitate access to health, education and employment, using little infrastructure are needed to bridge the gap between displacement and settlement.

The Global Maker Challenge, a project devised by The Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity is uniting world’s leading manufacturers, start-ups and entrepreneurs, governments, UN agencies and philanthropists, academia and researchers, to form a community dedicated to spreading global prosperity through the art of ‘making’. In 2016, the initiative launched its ‘Global Maker Challenge’ an online open-innovation platform that asks ‘makers’ and innovators to connect and collaborate, to solve real-world problems affecting peoples’ lives. In September 2019, the initiative will launch its second cohort, seeking solutions that effectively provide displaced people access to work, education, affordable and efficient justice services while migrating to different parts of the world. 

Although this issue of migration is unlikely to abate, the trauma of losing a home, community and often family members, can be eased by ensuring social structures remain in place to provide support. 
Therefore, it is crucial that those with the power to help, stand in solidarity with displaced people to provide social support, economic justice and peace by proactively incorporating these principles into the global approach in assisting those in need. 

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