Tech start-ups in Europe are trying to help migrants

  • ''There is a labor shortage in Finland, so we knew we had to do something after 32,000 refugees arrived to Finland in 2015, that's when we founded the company," Elisa Vepsalainen, the executive director of Startup Refugees, told CNBC.
  • In Europe in 2015, the continent witnessed an influx of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East, particularly the civil war in Syria.
  • In countries like Finland, technology firms have since formed with the aim of providing services for these refugees.

With the number of people displaced worldwide due to conflict and persecution currently standing at 68.5 million, some start-ups are trying to find innovative ways to help.

In Europe in 2015, the continent witnessed an influx of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East, particularly the civil war in Syria. In countries like Finland, technology firms have since formed with the aim of providing services for these refugees.

''There is a labor shortage in Finland, so we knew we had to do something after 32,000 refugees arrived to Finland in 2015, that's when we founded the company," Elisa Vepsalainen, the executive director of Startup Refugees, told CNBC.

Alongside digital services firm Futurice, also based in Finland, Startup Refugees created a new match-making tool between newcomers and new companies, called Match Made.

"We use it for profiling skills,'' Vepsalainen explained via telephone. The company started by collecting data on refugees in reception centers around Finland to find out background information relating to education and skills, so they could be matched with employers.

"Companies in Finland have been increasingly interested in what we are doing and we have achieved some promising results. So far we have supported 65 business teams and offered 554 jobs and more than 5,000 education opportunities,'' Vepsalainen added via email.

"It seems that a big part of the solution is that we have been targeting asylum seekers and refugees in the very early stage just after they arrive to the country."

She added that Match Made is also scalable and can be used internationally as well. She said they have had a lot of interest from other European countries.

Elsewhere, Finnish start-up Funzi has set up a Program for Migrant Integration where projects have been implemented with several partners. These are in the form of mobile services, like courses tailored for asylum seekers in Finland, to help enhance integration. It said its mobile course About Country had more than 20,000 users in the country.

The start-up has also helped provide migrants with learning support through its "microMBA" project. It had 70 migrants apply for the program and 40 were selected. The company, which attended the tech event Slush in Helsinki this week, said it was holding a side-event called Splush, to discuss more "Peacetech" solutions.

Over in Copenhagen, Denmark, Refunite is a missing persons platform for refugees and displaced populations. It says on its website that it has more than 1 million registered users.

It helps displaced people, who have lost contact with family members and friends in their escape from conflicts, to reconnect via a global database. Countries with Refunite mobile projects include Canada, China, France, Austria, Sweden, Australia, and Belgium.

Meanwhile in the U.S., messaging service Tarjimly says its mission is to "improve the lives of refugees and the efficiency of humanitarian services by eliminating language barriers with technology and micro-volunteering." It does this by offering on-demand translators for refugees worldwide.

Its website says its translators help in scenarios such as medical check-ups, asylum interviews, rescue operations, and trauma counselling. It connects people via messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messenger, within 60 seconds.

These start-ups are just some examples of companies trying to find solutions to the migrant crisis. It's hoped, as Vepsalainen from Startup Refugees said to CNBC, by matching people with companies willing to hire refugees, it will set a mindset so that this group can be seen as a '"brain gain" to society.

"There has definitely been a positive shift as a result," Vepsalainen said.