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"Undoc Camp": Web and technology to help undocumented children

By Nicola Flamigni

PICUM Communications Officer

Migrants, activists, lawyers, designers, web developers, journalists, photographers, engineers and musicians....all together to attend “Undoc Camp”, an innovative workshop aimed at using web and technology to get information and advice to young people with irregular immigration status in the UK. PICUM’s Project Officer, Sangeetha Iengar, and I participated in this brilliant brainstorming that took place on 13 and 14 July 2012 in London.

The idea behind the event was to bring together young migrants and activists with people working in technology and communications to merge their  expertise and come up with concrete ideas to help young undocumented migrants in the UK, who often face isolation, fear and destitution, as explained by this recent report (you can also watch the video of the report’s author, Dr Nando Sigona).

“Undoc Camp” was organized in the frame of “Digital Undoc”, a project commissioned by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy, delivered by On Road Media. The project aims to increase understanding of the potential to use social media and digital technology to help meet the advice and support needs of children and young people with an irregular migration status.

On Friday afternoon, Refugee Youth told the participants about their first-hand experiences with a powerful theatrical  performance,  then some presentations by experts completed the picture of the complex and harsh system that young undocumented migrants in the UK have to deal with.

On Saturday, participants split in six groups of eight to address six main issues (full list), ranging from how to help young people  deal with access to legal advice and  to help them prepare, emotionally and practically, to return to their country of origin.

I joined the group “Arrivals”, on how to help young people orientate themselves when they’re new to the UK. My team mates were great, all very knowledgeable and committed people with different professional backgrounds, nevertheless, at first, it was not easy…How to use technology to help a young person who feels lost in a foreign country, who doesn’t know who to trust, and faces chaos and confusion?…a young person that in some cases doesn’t even know where s/he is exactely!?..and probably doesn't have a smart phone..?

(Photo of the working group "Arrivals")

But after a half an hour of brainstorming that seemed to lead to nowhere, we came up with an idea that eventually won the second prize (2,500 Pounds to develop the idea)! “First Help”, the name of our project, is a text messaging service. The young person would send a text to a phone number and receive a response in their language with a link to a URL with:

Our idea looks at issues of identity and belonging. We hope this will be an important tool for people first coming into the UK, helping them to feel less disorientated. We will keep you updated on the evolution of this project.

The group “Legal Advice” won the first prize (5,000 Pounds), perhaps not surprisingly, "since getting decent advice is so crucial to the future of undocumented young migrants", as Francis Weber explains in her blog. You can watch their pitch here below.

I found this workshop to be an amazing event, a place to be inspired by people from different fields and to find new resources, ideas and energies through the exchange of knowledge and experiences. It was also very well organized. The teams of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and of On Road Media did a great job in pushing the different groups to come up with concrete, sustainable and low-cost projects. Let’s see now how the winning projects develop and the impact they will have. Personally, I have a very positive feeling… Depending on the outcome, similar workshops could be organized around other specific migration issues.

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