In an article by New York-based technology news and culture site The Verge published on 11 September, Marie Curie Senior Research Fellow Julien Brachet spoke to Amar Toor about the expressions of solidarity coming from citizen activists who, via online efforts and technological tools, are aiming to help deliver basic needs to refugees.
The article, which also features Mark Graham, associate professor and senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, considers the activists who have launched a wave of volunteerism and tech-driven campaigns to address the current situation in Europe. These initiatives range from Refugees Welcome using its website to match those displaced with people in Europe willing to host them, to smartphone apps produced to help recently-arrived migrants in Europe deal with the bureaucracy of establishing life in a new place.
Dr Brachet said that grassroots campaigns such as these can provide 'life-saving' short-term solutions because 'people and associations can act much faster than governments' to deliver basic needs. From a long-term perspective, he added that expressions of solidarity from groups like Refugees Welcome and the Iceland Facebook campaign, in which Icelanders have offered to house Syrian refugees, may help to integrate displaced people over the longer term.
Dr Brachet warned, however, that across Europe public opinion on the crisis remains deeply divided, and that change will only come where governments open their borders out of moral obligation, which will prove deeply problematic for those states with strong right-wing contingents. He added, 'I feel that this kind of solidarity is very good and important, but it probably won't change much in European migration policies. After the war in Libya in 2011, we saw the same kinds of initiatives, and nothing happened after that - it was just the same hardening of European policies.'