International SIGHT Workshop and Ideation Camp on Technical Support in Refugee Crises

The current refugee crises in Europe and South America are among the biggest migrant crises in the 21st century. Since 2015, rising numbers of migrants have arrived in the EU from across the Mediterranean Sea or overland through southeast Europe from other continents. Within the last 10 years, European countries have received more than five million refugees and numbers are still rising. Another refugee crisis is located in South America involving the countries of Colombia and Brazil, which receive refugees from Venezuela. According to the Colombian Ministry of foreign affairs, more than 1 million Venezuelans fled from their country in the last 10 years, resulting in similar administrative and technical challenges as in Europe.

From 16 – 18 July, participants from Germany, Colombia, and the United States gathered at the “International SIGHT Workshop and Ideation Camp on Technical Support in Refugee Crises” in Bochum, Germany. The event, hosted by the IEEE Germany Section SIGHT Group, brought together young engineers from different areas of the world in order to brainstorm about potential technical solutions to relieve distress and help refugees assimilate to life in new countries. Students attending the event participated in a competition where the best idea was recognized with a prize and an invitation to submit an application for an IEEE SIGHT project.

The event began with an introduction from Event Chair Dr. Christoph Baer, Chair of IEEE Germany Section SIGHT and professor at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, to provide context for the event. Following Dr. Baer, a refugee from Iraq shared about her experience traveling to Germany and what challenges she faced throughout her journey and upon arrival. The other Ideation Camp speakers were:

  • Amit Weiner, who shared about the IsraAid “Dominican Shelter Project”
  • Merle Medick from the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, who spoke about “Migration-Related Knowledge Management for Civil Protection of the Future”
  • D. Kehne and S.Seeberg from Tür an Tür-Digitalfabrik who presented “Integreat,” an app to facilitate resources for refugees arriving in Europe
  • Dr. Amy Lastuka from the Center for Sustainable Energy on “Seeking Asylum in the United States”

The following day included a presentation from Angélica Parra, representative of the IEEE Colombia Section SIGHT group, who shared about the group’s past and current projects. Then Professor Vikass Monebhurrun spoke about the IEEE SIGHT Indian Ocean SIGHT group’s ACTION (Agriculture, Climate & Technology in Indian Ocean Network) project to design and implement low-cost connected solar-powered weather stations both in Mauritius and Reunion Islands. Finally IEEE SIGHT Chair Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan shared about the role of IEEE SIGHT in the sustainable development space and how volunteers can participate in the program to design and deliver innovative solutions.

During the competition portion of the event, twenty-four student attendees were divided into international teams to design conceptual technical solutions to help refugees assimilate to life in new countries. Each team had five hours to work on an idea, and then presented their work in a 5-minute elevator pitch to a jury. Judging criteria included the technical idea, feasibility, a “feet on the ground” approach, sustainability, expected impact, and presentation style. After deliberation, the winning team was selected – Team RefuGeeks. Team members received a small prize, and their idea will be transferred to an IEEE SIGHT project application.