The WDCD Refugee Challenge update 1: The Welcome Card
‘The current immigration system is entirely obsolete’
While all our focus is on climate change, these days, we haven’t forgot our five finalists of last year’s WDCD Refugee Challenge set up together with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and IKEA Foundation. Hence a series of updates, starting with the Welcome Card.
‘I certainly do have the energy to continue this project, but sometimes I’m losing hopes that we can implement what the Welcome Card set itself to accomplish,’ says Veronica Polinedrio, who is the design researcher and project leader behind the Welcome Card, one of the winning projects in last year’s WDCD Refugee Challenge. Polinedrio, talking from the US where she temporarily joins her husband, has a very personal motivation to make the Welcome Card a success. ‘I see this project as a personal quest,’ the Italian-born experience designer says. ‘I’ve been an immigrant since I was 17. I moved first with my family to the US, where I continued my studies and later to Sweden. For 18 months now I have been waiting for an interview date for a spouse visa to join my husband here in the US. So far, I am only allowed to visit him with an ESTA for no more than 180 days per year. It is incredible that in 2017 we have such obsolete systems of accepting and welcoming people in the world.’
But it was not for her own cause that Polinedrio joined an ideation workshop in Stockholm as part of the WDCD Refugee Challenge in 2016. Questioning the EU’s inability to receive and give shelter to hundreds of thousands of people who were forced to flee their war affected countries led her to the Design Workshop, initiated by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in cooperation with Transformator Design and WDCD. In the workshop Polinedrio met migration adviser Anders Forsberg, IT consultant Marie Lärka, UX designer Anna Holm and Syrian refugee and English-Arabic translator Alaa. In the 12 hour workshop the four devised the idea for the Welcome Card.
The Welcome Card is a plastic ID card with an RFID-chip issued to all individuals who apply for asylum in an EU country. The radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) enables refugees to check their application status when the card is paired to a reader. It offers a way to display one’s asylum application status, while providing official information from relevant immigration agencies and related organizations.
The Welcome Card also provides information relevant to newcomers and connects them to publicly-available services such as transport and cultural events. The Welcome Card thus gives holders some peace of mind in regards to their asylum application process, while welcoming and including them in their new country through social activities.
Ten times the budget
One year onwards, Polinedrio admits that turning the idea into reality is not as easy as the idea in itself. ‘We’re struggling to get the card implemented,’ she says. ‘The two components of the Welcome Card – the platform for checking one’s asylum application status and the access to public services – go hand-in-hand as a systemic solution to welcoming. Securely implementing the immigration information component is a challenge. It turns out that building even a small-scale prototype of a website and information system-exchange system would take ten times the budget we received from the Refugee Challenge. Specifically, because it would need a high level of security to exchange governmental information to an applicant. We’ve been talking to many web design agencies, but even if they would join in pro bono, we wouldn’t have enough money.’
The other thing is that the immigration part of the card would require a lot of changes within the immigration system. Polinedrio: ‘We’ve talked once to the immigration authorities in Sweden and although they were interested in the idea, there was no immediate commitment. However, they are planning to implement some of the components our research also suggested, by 2020. So, it is encouraging that we have had this conversation.’
Regarding the service part of the Welcome Card there is more progress, Polinedrio tells. ‘We are working with a few small asylum centres in and around Stockholm to test the service part of the Welcome Card. We try to connect the people living there on a local level with transport services, cultural events and local networks. At first, we wanted to establish this for the whole of Sweden, but soon we realized we had to refocus on the local level. We’ve even made it more specific by focusing first on one of the largest at-risk groups in Sweden, unaccompanied minors. They are the most in need of support to help them get around in their new surroundings. Later on, we plan to extend to women and single mothers with children. Our research has strongly concluded that early inclusion is the foundation for creating a group of resourceful and empowered individuals.’
New team members sought
Although progress is slow, the Welcome Card team is determined to continue developing the project. Apart from money and support from the authorities, the team is looking for reinforcement. ‘We’re looking for new team members that can help us with building a business model, funding and expanding our social media presence, so that we can continue to focus on implementation. And of course, any external consultation support on web development and web safety that can help the project further is very welcome too.’
The longer the team is working on this project, the more they see the necessity for change. Polinedrio: ‘The current situation of immigration policies and application processing is completely irrelevant for the applicants. The system, which is still based on piles of paperwork and phone conversations, is entirely obsolete. We are trying to talk about this with as many people as we encounter, trying to hold these conversations with citizens and educators, and hope to pop some lights in the heads of the authorities, not only in Sweden, but worldwide.’