The High Commissioner for Refugees witnesses first-hand how refugees’ experiences help them develop tech solutions to their day-to-day problems.
By Erla Cabrera in Montreal, Canada
This morning, Ahmed Saeed, a 23-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea, shared with the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, his experience when he first came to Canada in 2015. “It was difficult being in a new place when you have no friends and don’t speak the language. I felt very isolated and didn’t know where to go when I needed help.”
Ahmed proudly showed Commissioner Grandi an app that he helped develop with two friends from university. Together, they joined the Refugee Centre in Montreal, a centre that nurtures innovative solutions to help newcomers integrate in Canada.
Ahmed’s app, suitably called Compass, guides all newcomers–from resettled refugees to economic immigrants–by giving answers to a number of frequently asked questions, such as where to rent the lowest-priced apartments or which services newcomers can access from local organisations. Ahmed used his own experience as a refugee to make sure Compass would be useful. “I wanted to do something so that other refugees won’t have to experience what I went through. I wanted them to navigate the complex Canadian legal system with the help of a modern-day compass.”
The Montreal Refugee Centre trains newcomers to start up their own tech businesses. One startup is developing an app, LUNA AI, a cutting-edge interactive platform that walks asylum seekers through the refugee claims process with Canadian authorities. LUNA operates like a chat bot which converses with the asylum seeker; through a series of back-and-forth questions, the app extracts the information required to automatically complete their asylum applications. Instead of filling out pages and pages of forms in a foreign language, newcomers save an immense amount of time and effort by using the app.
“It is very exciting to see how your challenging beginnings have led you to create innovative ways to support your own and others’ integration,” the High Commissioner told Ahmed and his friends at the Centre. “Such apps will make the life of people who often lost everything, so much easier. It reminds us that more often than not, solutions start with the very people we try to help.”
For Ahmed, working with the Compass team allowed him not only to help others, but also to develop his own skills and professional connections. “I’ve been lucky enough to have met amazing people, doing everything they can to help others. The Refugee Centre gave sound to my voice by introducing me to the IT world and using my story as the instrumental data they needed to bring the app to life. This is what I want to offer to others: a chance to use their story to build bridges and steer their own course.”