A couple of weeks ago I attended a very special workshop arranged by UNHCR Innovation, UNHCR Northern Europe and Transformator Design. 60 professionals participated in the 12 hour refugee challenge initiated by “What design can do”. The purpose of the project was to gather a wide spread of people to generate ideas and solutions to five specific challenges that refugees meets. I had really no idea of what to expect when I entered the Transformator office but it turned out to become one of the best spent days in a very long time.
After a background briefing of UNHCR we were divided into groups. Each group selected one of the five challenges to work on. Then we were invited to visit one refugee camp and interview the people living there about their experiences. The challenge we had chosen to work on was called “PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT WHILE WAITING FOR ASYLUM”.
The first striking insight was that many of the refugees still has parts of their family left behind in camps or in other, less secure, countries or still in war zones. The only thing on their mind was, of course, to get their family into safety. Asking questions about personal development felt like an insult.
For others, waiting for asylum (1-2 years), felt like being trapped in limbo. Until asylum is granted, your entire life is put on hold and you will for example not get any language training. Without language skills, there is no way to get a job. The allowance is so low you will not be able to use public transportation. You are basically stuck at camp unless you are very driven and take matters into your own hands.
The visit left me very sad and frustrated. Primary because my inability to help with what really matters – safe escape routes. But also because of our society’s inability to manage the asylum process in an effective and human way. I think that the migration agency really would benefit from introducing a customer perspective and do some customer journey mapping.
Another insight is that the refugee camps are very much separated from the rest of the society. Even though this camp was located in an area very well known to me, I had no idea that it existed until our visit. Camp management keeps it secret to avoid attacks. Not the best conditions for integration.
After 12 intense hours we all came up with a number of good solutions to some of the challenges. Many ideas were low cost initiatives, involving the resourceful people living at camp. But most important, I am convinced that all of us left with painful awareness of the fact that something big has to be done to protect all the people escaping from the awful wars in our time.