Bringing the Internet to Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Bringing the Internet to Syrian Refugees in Turkey

To date, there are somewhere between 4.8 - 6.6 million refugees who have flooded into Eurasia and Europe, most of whom are Syrian. Turkey, a bordering country, is a major entry point for many Syrians seeking refuge. If you still think the Internet is a luxury and not a necessity, all you need to do is ask a Syrian refugee in Nizip, Turkey, and that question will be quickly put to bed. According to the Huffington Post, one of the most common questions refugees ask once they arrive in Turkey after "Where am I?" is "Where can I get Wifi?"

As an organization whose mission is to connect the offline world to the Internet, we are naturally sympathetic to the needs of refugees. We have wanted to aid in the relief efforts for some time. Now, thanks to Techfugees, a social enterprise coordinating the international tech community’s response to the needs of refugees, we have been able to begin the collaboration process. We are exploring the possibilities of utilizing and customizing our technology to serve the communications needs of Syrian and Jordanian refugees.

How Text Engine Could Be Used to Improve Communications for Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Let's trace the journey of a hypothetical Syrian refugee. I've just left my home country of Syria and crossed over the Turkish border. By asking around, I find out I am in a city called Nizip.

One of the first things I want to know is, "Where can I buy food and water in Nizip?" First, I need the postal code of Nizip. I can get this using the "Postal code" command:

postal-code-nizip-turkey.jpg

Ok. The postal code is 27700. With this, I can find the nearest grocery store. Using Text Engine's "closest to" command, I next try this query:

grocery-store-nizip-turkey.jpg

Good. It's late now and I'm tired, and my kids are hungry. So we'll find out where the grocer is in the morning. For now, we need food. So, I use Text Engine to find some places to eat nearby:

food-nizip-27700-turkey.jpg

Ok. Now I have three restaurants to choose from. We've got the food situation taken care of for the night.

Language Translation

Now, I may need to ask one of the locals how to get to the grocery store. Being from Syria, of course I don't speak much Turkish. Thankfully, Text Engine has a "translate" function that translates English to Turkish:

Getting the Web by Text Is Nice, But I Still Need Internet

So far, Text Engine has been pretty helpful in giving me web information on my phone. After all, I've arrived from a foreign country. I really don't know much about this place, and I don't yet know where Wifi is. Plus, my SIM card is programmed to Syrian telecom networks, so my data service does not work very well here. The benefit of Text Engine is that it gives me basic web information without the need for either a wireless hotspot or data.

But eventually I'm going to have to register as a foreign national and that means I will eventually need Internet. Can Text Engine tell me where the nearest internet cafe is?

"Where can I find Internet access?" is one of the most frequently asked questions for refugees (source: International Rescue Committee)

"Where can I find Internet access?" is one of the most frequently asked questions for refugees (source: International Rescue Committee)

Good. I'll ask a local where these places are, and I'll be able to connect to WiFi, check my email, and do other important things. I can also get driving directions to one of these locations with Text Engine from my current location:

Currency Conversions

Another important item of business: money. All I have in my pocket are Syrian Pounds. Now that I'm in Turkey, I need Turkish Lira. But I need to know the exchange rate:

Text Engine does pretty well at providing currency conversions using the "Web" command.

Text Engine does pretty well at providing currency conversions using the "Web" command.

Ok, I'm not happy about that, but at least I know the rates. Now all I have to do is find a currency exchange store or a bank. Since I have the actual exchange rate from the Google, I don't have to worry about being ripped off by an exchange rate scammer.

Of course, I have many other questions. Can I take a taxi? How do I get my asylum papers? And eventually my family plans to settle in Europe. So I also need to know where to catch a bus to Lesvos, Greece. I'll have all sorts of legal and transportation-related questions. Text Engine artificial intelligence engine won't be enough.

How Do I Let My Loved Ones Know I'm Ok?

But I notice that Text Engine does have human operators who can answer questions. So I ask:

"Can someone send a message to my loved ones back home that I'm ok? #HUMAN"

I wait a few seconds. Then, I get this response:

To get a human operator to answer your questions, just send your query to Text Engine and append the hashtag #HUMAN.

To get a human operator to answer your questions, just send your query to Text Engine and append the hashtag #HUMAN.

I wait another minute or so, and a person texts me this reply:

What a relief. It's good to know there's a human being on the other end, in case I need one. Until I get to an internet hotspot, Text Engine proves to be a handy little lifesaver! Even without WiFi or a data signal, I can still get the information I need.