Design & Innovation

Refugee Innovation

Technology that's changing the lives of people fleeing persecution

1 min read

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While it’s important to push the boundaries of human technological achievement forward, we can also use technology to ensure that no one gets left behind along the way. Here are five inventions that are improving the lives of refugees fleeing political, religious, or other persecution around the world.


Better Shelter

As the more outdoorsy of you will know, a tent isn’t a nice place to be in either baking heat or pouring rain. When you’ve got 25,000 neighbors on your campsite, it’s even less pleasant. But an organization called Better Shelter is using modern materials and production techniques to develop a lockable, resilient, insulated, and cheap shelter that will improve life in the tent cities that serve as temporary refugee camps around the world. Another organization is working on an emergency floor that’s compatible with the design.

Refugees United

When refugees leave their homes, they’re often faced with the trauma of separation from family and friends. Rebuilding those connections used to take years of painstaking letter-writing, but mobile phones have revolutionized the process. At the forefront of that revolution is Refugees United, which offers a free SMS service that lets people quickly register their details and match with those looking for them.

Wikipedia Zero

A repository of all the world’s information is only useful to those who have access to it. That’s why the Wikimedia Foundation built Wikipedia Zero–an initiative that works with mobile carriers to waive the data charges for accessing the site and make it accessible via SMS, putting knowledge in the hands of billions more people around the world.


The general public is often ignorant about the reasons why refugees flee their homes, and telling their stories has frequently been a powerful force for fostering empathy and positive public opinion toward migrants. Traditionally, journalists tell these stories, but a few groups of refugees around the world now have the tools to tell their own stories. NeeNee Productions, for example, has equipped a community of refugee girls with cameras and taught them the basics of filmmaking. One early question they asked them was: Why is it important to use a video camera? The girls’ answers can be seen in the following footage.

3D Printing

While 3D printing is still seen as something of novelty in the West, the ability to create physical objects from thin air in a matter of hours is revolutionary for refugee camps that often lack basic supplies. One group, Refugee Open Ware, is building “FabLabs” in refugee camps, offering equipment and training in digital fabrication so that people can build whatever they need. Their facility in the Za’atari camp on the Jordan-Syrian border is already being used to create cheap, resilient prosthetic limbs for those who’ve suffered amputations.

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How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our Design & Innovation section, which looks at new devices, concepts, and inventions that are changing our world. Click the logo to read more.