MEET THE DEVELOPER
Shelley Taylor’s app supports migrants everywhere. Tap to read how.
RefAid - Refugee Aid App
Migrant and refugee services
In 2015, a 3-year-old Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe with his family. The image of his body washed up on a beach in Lebanon devastated American startup veteran Shelley Taylor.
“These migrants are coming into Europe, they get here, and they don’t know how to find the basic things—the supermarket, shelter, the doctor,” says Taylor, CEO of Trellyz, which creates software for cities and nonprofits. “And I thought, they all have smartphones, maybe I can create something that will let them find what they need when they need it.”
Over a weekend she built RefAid—Refugee Aid App and launched it in the UK and Italy in February 2016. The app catalogs aid organizations’ services for migrants and refugees seeking to build a new life in Europe and, increasingly, the United States.
These days, the app is evolving from one designed to meet the basic daily survival needs of refugees to one able to tackle the many challenges of the mounting migrant crisis at the U.S. border.
Services have been added to address family separation, offering constantly updated intel about legal aid as well as geo-targeted push notifications with crucial on-the-ground information. For example, RefAid might send an alert with a phone number for free legal help in an area where migrants are being rounded up.
The app (which is now available in 22 countries, with some 5,000 aid organizations contributing) will soon include services in most U.S. states. Taylor and her team are constantly reaching out to more nonprofits and public service providers to include them in the app. Through a web-based content-management system, they can manage and update their offerings and communicate directly with users.
These migrants are coming into Europe, they get here, and they don’t know how to find the basic things—the supermarket, shelter, the doctor.
Available in English, Arabic, Farsi, and soon Spanish, the app directs refugees (using geolocation) to aid within a 100-mile radius. The services are sorted by categories like legal, food, education, work, media, faith groups, psychological, and more.
Solving one problem at a time
Before launching RefAid, Taylor—who was raised in Palo Alto, California, but lives in Europe—needed to contact aid organizations and have them provide a list of services that could help migrants in need. She started with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the British Red Cross but quickly ran into a roadblock: Most of them didn’t readily know all of the services they provided.