In 2016, Amsterdam-based design agency What Design Can Do, together with partners UNHCR and IKEA Foundation, created the Refugee Challenge, a global call for design solutions to the current European refugee crisis. In 2015, UNHCR revealed that the number of global forced displaced people topped nearly 60 million, the highest number since World War II. As a consequence, tens of thousands of newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers have been wandering across Europe, moving from one border opening to the next, seeking temporary to long-term shelter in a new country. Caught between solidarity and public anti-immigrant sentiments, the European Union struggled to find answers to this crisis.
With this in mind, the WDCD + UNHCR + IKEA Foundation call-to-action sought to find game-changing yet feasible ideas to respond to this challenge. The Welcome Card was one of the five winners of the Refugee Challenge, together with AGRIshelter, Reframe Refugees, Eat & Meet Bus, and Makers Unite.
Our story started on May 20, 2016, when our team met for a 12-hour workshop to tackle the refugee crisis. We shared the same perspective: the current isolated solutions needed a more systemic approach. The Welcome Card was the concept born out of our human-centered design investigation. It's a systemic adaptable solution to the current asylum seeking and immigration crises unfolding around the world. It responds to the most commonly faced challenges when settling in a new country, by providing access to essential information, such as one’s asylum application and case status, and to available public services, such as language classes, skill-based courses and public transportation.
During 2015, a record 1.3 million refugees crossed into Europe. Between 2015 and 2016, more than 2.5 million people applied for asylum in the EU. By the end of 2016, authorities in the member states issued 593000 first instance asylum decisions.
In 2015, Sweden received 162877 asylum applications, a 300% increase since 2013. Due to the amount of incoming asylum application requests, the country has seen an unprecedented growth in the processing and handling time on account of the Swedish Migration Agency. The increase of people seeking refuge in Europe has caused strains on local societies and government authorities alike, prolonging the waiting times for residence permits and asylum. Shortening asylum seekers’ waiting time and ensuring that the time spent waiting is well utilized are currently the two most pressing concerns for local, national and European government agencies alike.
Asylum seekers are stuck in waiting, mostly for a decision on their asylum request. During this waiting period, they also face many other challenges:
- Lack of information regarding asylum application status.
- Making sense of complex information.
- Dealing with the long waiting times.
- Limited access to public transportation.
- Inclusion and integration.
On the other side of this situation are the national migration authority and local municipalities, which face the rising needs to address the situation of integrating asylum seekers and refugees. As asylum applications have dramatically increased, the internal workflow within these administrations has been dramatically disrupted and the load of work increased.
For migration agencies and local authorities, challenges include:
- Long application handling time.
- Lack of digital communication tools.
- Overload of unnecessary requests.
- Ensuring a meaningful waiting time for applicants.
As part of our human-centered design process, we carried out research into the numbers and people within this complex situation. We looked at statistics and read reports, but most importantly we gave our stakeholders the opportunity to answer one particular question: what would be the single most important improvement in your day?
We asked this question both to asylum seekers, and to migration authorities and local governments - our first insight was the immense loss of human capital in modern asylum processes. Our hypothesis was that, if we could invest in the waiting time of asylum seekers, we would be able to trigger a cause-effect mechanism that would affect the entire system.
Component 1: Access to Case Status
One of the leading causes of frustration and anxiety amongst asylum seekers is the lack of information. Making sure that asylum seekers are provided with correct, simple and timely information regarding the status of their asylum request is one of the main objectives of the Welcome Card. More specifically, the Welcome Card aims to ensure that asylum seekers are provided with information on:
- the general procedures of the asylum seeking request;
- the time frame in regards to their own application;
- regulatory changes and direct impact;
- legal rights and responsibilities.
Asylum seekers can use the Welcome Card to access a clear and correct description of their asylum application process, and understand what is expected on their part, how the application is handled by the migration authority, and when a decision is due.
Serving its users via a digital platform, the Welcome Card ensures that asylum seekers are provided with:
- an at-a-glance understanding of the process;
- in-length legal and practical consideration sections;
- user-friendly visual;
- simple language with translations.
Social and Financial Value Proposition for Asylum Seekers
- Planning one’s waiting time
Knowing what the process entails and how long waiting times are, users may start planning for work, studies and other activities.
- Reduced stress and anxiety
Being in the know eliminates anxiety and minimizes the risk of severe cases.
- Human Capital Investment
Giving dignity back to asylum seekers and refugees.
- Increased flow of information leads to better informed applicants
Creating well-informed applicants that understand the application and how to navigate the process.
Social and Financial Value Proposition for the Swedish Migration Agency
- Decrease waiting times
Understanding the process to eliminate unnecessary requests.
- Decrease legal charges (‘JO-anmälningar’)
Providing information to reduce complaints in case handling.
- Correct internal management and improve handling times
By reducing uncertainty about the asylum process, which in turns lessens the number of unnecessary requests (in the form of calls, mails and in-person visits) to the migration authorities, there will be lifted pressure in case-handling and administration. The migration authority would provide a better service using the same staffing.
Component 2: Access to Public Transportation
Feeling at home in one’s new country, and getting to know the culture of that society depends on the degree to which one may take part in the social life. High traffic urban environments, which provide access to financial, civil, and educational institutions, are out of reach for asylum seekers living in refugee homes located outside of the city center. Many asylum seekers, who are entrenched in the lengthy asylum process, seek a path to understanding the society in which they are attempting to be a part of, but find that without transportation, they have no way to explore their surroundings. Stockholm offers an effective transportation system, but at a cost that is generally unaffordable for asylum seekers. As an initial analysis, a single adult (residing in a refugee home) waiting for asylum in Sweden is given on average 24SEK/day (ca. 2,50 Euro) in personal allowance. The cost of a one-way ticket is 36 SEK (ca. 3,75 Euro).
In partnership with local public transportation authorities, the Welcome Card aims at providing access to public transportation as a gateway to language, education, culture, and general understanding of the local society. Asylum seekers and refugees can use their Welcome Card to access any public transport type within SL (Stockholm län, the Stockholm county transportation system includes buses, trams, metro and commuters train). The solution is made possible with a monthly top-up balance (reskassa) to be regulated electronically within the card and equivalent to the user’s category.
Respecting existing infrastructures, the Welcome Card utilizes an RFID chip for ease of compatibility and access to the information stored in the card. This type of electronic system allows for information to be registered and stored in a cloud-based manner, providing security and safety in case the card is lost, ultimately allowing for quick deployment and replacement. Every month the card is refilled to match the user category: if no travel has been used the credit top-up balance is left as is to prevent refill for unused cards.
Component 3: Access to Social Activities
Access to social activities is a challenge for all refugees and asylum seekers, independently of nationality, gender or age group. Due to several factors, including lack of accessibility into their community, stress and anxiety for the asylum application process, hesitation to join, lack of knowledge or financial possibilities, many asylum seekers and refugees find themselves at loss of social experiences once arriving in Sweden. A particular case is also presented by families. Parents that resettled with their children in Sweden expressed their hope for a brighter future for their kids. However, integration into Swedish society is made difficult by asylum seekers and refugees’ living situations, where it often happens that reception centers are located far outside the city center. As a consequence of the limited resources in the outer neighborhoods, families with young children receive limited pedagogical and educational support, in comparison to families with children enrolled in school. Generally, parents focus on their children’s growth and development, aiming at extra-curricular activities that target the children. Such activities include recreational sports and cultural events dedicated to young audiences.
Taking a cue from partnerships that exist for the betterment of youth, students and other vulnerable groups around the globe, the Welcome Card seeks partnerships with educational, cultural, and communal institutions within the regions it operates. Just as student identification grants students the ability to participate and empower themselves with their environments offer, asylum seekers may have the possibility to do the same. In collaboration with associations like museums, cultural centers, libraries, and physical wellness centers, the Welcome Card gives access to educational and cultural institutions in the region it operates to provide the opportunity for immersive self-integration.
Functionally speaking, the Welcome Card can be utilized in a variety of ways. The RFID inside may hold the sensitive information that grants the asylum seeker access to the institutions offering partnership with the Welcome Card, just as it carries the data used to access transportation from SL. If this proves to too complex of a system for some institutional partners, the physical appearance of the card can serve as a means to entry, just as the student I.D. card (Studentkort) does for museums and similar institutions. It may be up to the partners how they want to offer their services/open their doors. It may be a limited window of free service, like Moderna Museets free Fridays, or a totally open and free service to card holders. In short, the Welcome Card aims at:
- granting asylum seekers free access to partnered institutions via:
- safely-storing information via RFID
- physical presentation of the card
- building partnerships to offer discounted products and services at the discretion of service providers.
The most obvious impact is the social and cultural enrichment of asylum seekers. A wealth of psychological advantages may come from granting access to places otherwise unexplored by the asylum seekers, as they may begin to feel the positive reinforcement of being involved in society. It would take them from being outsiders looking in, to insiders gazing about in exploration. This potentially energizes this incoming population and encourages them to be active members in their communities. This not only presents an opportunity for asylum seekers, but also gives their prospective welcoming communities an advantage to get to know them, and help guide them into giving back and making society function and creating true integration. And true integration brings all the advantages of adding a productive member to a society: providing to social welfare, sharing talents and insights, and advancing the future of the culture through social collaboration.
How does it work?
Read more about the project in these publications:
- What Design Can Do for Refugees
- The Atlantic: Apps that help refugees
- World Economic Forum: 5 innovative design solutions to the refugee crisis, backed by IKEA
- Rolling out the welcome mat
- What Design Can Do announces winners of Refugee Challenge
- Simplifying the lives of asylum seekers
- Design is always political
- 25 smart ideas that could help with the refugee crisis
- A CARD THAT TELLS REFUGEES EVERYTHING THEY WANT TO KNOW
The Welcome Card is an ongoing project between Italy and Sweden. We are happy to share our current status as well as our business plan. Should you want more information, or want to join our team, please fill the form here and get in touch with us!