Today, at WDCD Live São Paulo we’ll hear several talks around the theme of What Design Can Do for refugees. Since we launched the WDCD Refugee Challenge we’ve been very clear that design will not solve the problem on its own. But designers can provide for ideas that might change things for refugees for the better, at least a little. Just look at the five finalists of the challenge, to be presented on stage here, to understand what I mean.

That the need for improvement of many a refugee’s live is very urgent, was demonstrated again in a long story in The New York Times International Edition of this weekend. In it Robert Cohen writes about a forgotten story of cruelty against refugees on the Australian outpost of Manus near Papua New Guinea.

‘The world’s refugee crisis, with its 65 million people on the move, more than at any time since 1945, knows no more sustained, sinister or surreal exercise in cruelty than the South Pacific quasi-prisons Australia has established for its trickle of the migrant flood,’ Cohen writes.

Imprisoned at Manus

He describes the horror of hundreds of refugees who are denied access to Australia and are kept imprisoned on the island of Manus for more than 3 years already. They don’t get any information on their status, there is no sign of a procedure and the prisoners have no view whatsoever on their future.

Australia, this huge under-populated continent, uses the ‘relocation centre’ at Manus as a warning for new refugees that would want to cross the sea from Indonesia to Australia that such an endeavour is of no use. Cohen talked to several of the prisoners, describing the horrors that caused them to flee their home countries, and the cruelties they endured at Manus.

Welcome card

These heart-breaking stories, of course, need to be properly investigated and the victims should be granted proper asylum and a safe place to live. Again, this is something designers can’t do.

But deprivation of information is an issue for almost all refugees everywhere in the world. And there designers might be able to step in, as the inventors of the Welcome Card, one of the finalists of the WDCD Refugee Challenge, have shown. Their card, now in development with funding and expert guidance form the challenge partners, offers asylum seekers practical information on their new surroundings, as well as updates on the status of their application. At least, that is something for people who were forced to flee their home and family and can’t do much more than wait to see what the future will bring.

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