For the first time on record, more than 100 million people globally were forcibly displaced due to war, human rights abuses or persecution in 2022, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
That figure includes refugees and asylum seekers. The war in Ukraine played a sizable role. The UN reported more than 5.2 million refugees from Ukraine are present across Europe and estimated a total of 12.3 million people have been displaced to date.
When people flee violence, poverty, and oppression, technology can help ease their resettlement and the new challenges of displacement.
Language barriers are among those challenges. The ability to communicate in the local language can connect people in need with legal aid, education, and healthcare and help build trust and essential community connections.
Companies in partnership since 2018
Rosetta Stone and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) recently announced an extension of a partnership that began in 2018. Under the partnership, Rosetta Stone will provide free lifetime subscriptions to the language learning platform for IRAP's global staff and refugee clients.
"The donated subscriptions will provide lifetime access to all 25 languages on Rosetta Stone to help refugees better navigate the resettlement process, improve communication between IRAP staff and refugees, and help refugees better acclimate to their new homes," Kate Mattison, vice president of curriculum at Rosetta Stone parent company IXL Learning, told ZDNet. "IRAP has been a partner of ours since 2018, and we plan on continuing this partnership to support its global mission."
Acquiring basic language skills is also important for refugees' social integration — it helps them acquire cultural knowledge about their host countries, enables them to become active members of society, and gives refugees a voice to share their experiences and improve intercultural relationships.
Mattison said that language proficiency also increases the likelihood that children will succeed in school and opens more employment opportunities for adults.
Those elements are important to helping people resettle "because it shifts the odds back into refugees' favor by helping them obtain an education and become self-sufficient, and it encourages full socio-economic integration," Mattison explained.
'Technology can assist displaced people'
In addition to Ukraine, the UN said people from Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also currently affected "by new waves of violence or protracted conflict."
IRAP used its global virtual law firm to provide direct legal assistance to 3,627 people from 47 countries last year, according to its 2021 report to supporters.
"As IRAP continues to grow, we look forward to offering this new tool to any new staff and clients who receive subscriptions through the partnership," said Spencer Tilger, an IRAP spokesperson.
The organization has five global offices: New York City and Washington, D.C. in the US; Amman, Jordan and Beirut, Lebanon in the Middle East; and Berlin, Germany in Europe.
"Technology can assist displaced people in many ways," Tilger said. "When people are on the move, they often rely on their phones to stay in touch with their loved ones and access the information they need on their journey. Language learning tools like Rosetta Stone can help refugees better navigate their lives in transit and their new lives after resettlement."
Mattison echoed that sentiment:
An important way that technology can help refugees is by providing near-instant access to resources — at any time and from anywhere — that make enduring the resettlement process easier. Since many refugees haven't settled into a permanent home yet, they can rely on technology — specifically their smartphones — to access helpful information and educational resources on the go.
Data shows that most modern refugees usually have access to basic technology, and it's a necessity, not a luxury. According to a UN study, 71% of refugee households owned a mobile phone in 2016, and 39% had a smartphone.
Language proficiency is key to starting a new life in a new country.
Mattison said language proficiency "improves communication with advocacy groups to help refugees better navigate resettlement, facilitates social integration into new communities as quickly as possible, and improves the chances of educational and employment opportunities in their new home."
"Refugees who lack written and verbal language skills may find it difficult to coordinate with aid organizations," Mattison continued. "We believe our partnership with IRAP will help shrink language barriers to facilitate smoother transitions throughout resettlement, help displaced persons understand their legal rights, and empower refugees as they start a new life."
In addition, IRAP is developing a virtual legal information platform for refugees "so that our legal resources can reach more displaced people than ever before, no matter where they are located, and provide them with the information they need to access their legal rights," Tilger said.
A $53 million grant over six years through the Audacious Project will support IRAP's expansion of services.
By 2027, IRAP said it wants to provide 2.5 million displaced people worldwide with "the legal resources necessary to activate their legal rights," which will allow them to "pursue pathways to safety with dignity and agency."
IRAP currently has a chatbot and legal resource website that can help displaced people learn about their legal rights.
"Many refugees are not fluent in the language spoken in their resettlement country when they first arrive," Tilger said. "Initiatives like Rosetta Stone's partnership with IRAP can give them access to free educational tools that help them adjust and improve their social and economic opportunities."
Other organizations are also using the power of technology to support refugees.
In April, Airbnb.org, Flexport.org and Spotify partnered with the Breakthrough Prize Foundation to launch the Tech For Refugees initiative. The initial $100 million from the foundation will support civilians leaving Ukraine due to the ongoing war.
Support through the Tech For Refugees initiative includes:
Free, short-term Airbnb rentals for up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine
Delivery of hospital beds and other medical equipment through Flexport's digital freight network
Free access to Spotify Premium for Ukrainian refugees
Spotify has also partnered with UNICEF, providing financial support and exploring ways music can help alleviate the human impacts of war.