World Refugee Day: Perspectives and opportunities in the age of Artificial Intelligence

June 15, 2023

As part of the commitment designated by the United Nations, World Refugee Day takes place on June 20 as a day to honor refugees and displaced persons around the world, seeking to foster understanding and empathy towards this population, as well as to rethink the approaches implemented and the results obtained. 

Defined in its scope on the 1951 Convention, the issue that was first commemorated globally in 2001 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the aforementioned Convention, the date aims to highlight the rights, needs and dreams of refugees and displaced persons, encouraging the mobilization of resources and political will so that, beyond surviving, these populations manage to thrive.

The latter takes on special relevance in the understanding that the refugee problem only changes because it worsens. In fact, natural disasters, the evolution of climate change, persecution and conflicts are phenomena that aggravate basic situations and can also force people to seek refuge in other countries without an international or regional institutional framework to moderate their suffering. 

1 in 88 people must flee their homes

The 2021 Global Trends Report outlined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) illustrates that more than 89.3 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes. This figure includes 27.1 million refugees, more than half of whom are under 18, and more than 53 million internally displaced persons. It should be noted that, as these are figures for 2021, they do not include the migration crisis resulting from the conflict in Ukraine.

In the 1990s, an average of 1.5 million refugees could return home each year. However, during the last decade, that number has fallen to around 385,000, showing that the increase in displacement far outstrips the solutions that the present can provide.

Moreover, the waiting context is not encouraging either, as 77% (more than three-quarters) of the world’s refugees are trapped in situations of protracted displacement, such as the scenario in Afghanistan, now in its fifth decade of development.

Against this backdrop, December 2018 saw the ratification of the Global Compact on Refugees, a plan of action for governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure that host communities receive the support they need to enable refugees to lead productive lives and live in society.

This action not only recognizes the challenging situation of refugees on a global scale but also calls on all sectors to provide support so that, in sync with the Sustainable Development Goals, progress is made toward multidimensional integration that transcends a focus on basic needs and promotes people’s total development. 

Educate to empower 

Through the Code your Future program, which illustrates the commitment to provide real and inclusive opportunities from education in technology and employability, Globant seeks to be part of this multidimensional integration circuit. 

By the end of 2022, Globant joined the TENT Association for Refugees, seeking to strengthen programs to support refugees and migrants worldwide. Seen, in the words of our Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Nancy Bolton, as a “natural extension,” this relationship will enhance specialized support to refugee communities. 

By designing programs based on their specific needs to help them enter the job market, the partnership presents different instances of participation. Specifically in Europe, Globant is joining the Sunflower Project, a pan-European initiative launched by Tent to accelerate the economic inclusion of tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugee women through improved access to employment.

Globant joined TENT’s Refugee Women Mentoring Program in Europe (UK, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Poland and Denmark) and the United States. From here, Globers from different parts of the world will provide individualized professional guidance to refugee women, promoting the development of a professional strategy that promotes real inclusion.

Humanity faces unique and complex challenges, exacerbated by the context in which they occur. Therefore, it is a priority to ensure that the opportunities created by the latest technologies are open and have a positive impact on humanity while respecting human rights-based approaches and ethical standards.

Opportunities and prospects in the age of AI

One of the advantages of Artificial intelligence (AI) is that it’s increasingly gaining ground as a tool to aid decision-making in different fields of refugee issues, where automated ways of processing information and predicting risks in different circumstances present great appeal and increased potential.

The “frontier of the future” is expected to depend heavily on digital systems, data analytics and automation at scale to improve facilitation and mitigate risk. In this, machine learning and other advanced and emerging techniques, such as neural networks and natural language processing, offer opportunities for AI to analyze large amounts of data and identify patterns that can support strategic planning, inform investigations and enable problem-solving in critical areas. 

With the work of the United Nations and UNHCR as part of this process, as well as projects from the private sector and governments seeking to address the experiences of the refugee population, a myriad of experiences stand out, such as: 

  • Predictive analysis for contingency planning: This project forecasts the number of people crossing the border with Brazil and the accommodation capacity in Boa Vista and Pacaraima, the Brazilian border with Venezuela. For this, different techniques are used: a queue modeling tool to simulate future border crossing scenarios under different conditions, immediate predictive modeling efforts to estimate the current urban population and potentially identify the interest of population movements using big data sources, and the development of predictive models to forecast future arrivals and population movements.
  • Drought detection and satellite imagery in Somalia: This project used computer vision and satellite imagery of Somalia to detect drought in the country and correlate it with conflict and displacement patterns. The project used Landsat 8 satellite imagery to detect drought indicators on the ground that were validated with meteorological datasets from the same regions.
  • Text analysis for center data records in Uganda: UNHCR uses the Feedback Referral and Resolution Mechanism (FRRM). This IT tool is used by 68 different UNHCR partners providing services to displaced and host communities across Uganda. The information collected from the call centers is recorded and the relevant points are notified of any problems that need to be rectified. The recorded information is displayed on a dashboard that visually highlights trends, including how they affect different demographic groups.

In view of the nature and dynamics of the refugee problem and its future prospects, it is essential to have more projects that, guided by a comprehensive control approach associated with the ethical challenges implicit in AI, should flourish. 

Ultimately, a day such as this should highlight that, as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, “As the refugees go, so goes the world”.


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