"They're just here for the free handouts." How often have you heard that phrase, or something similar, from someone talking about the refugees seeking asylum in Europe? Probably all too often. But now a group of German volunteers have decided to do exactly that - distribute a whole bunch of great free stuff to refugees, to help them feel more at home in their new environment.
In Europe, the refugee crisis continues unabated. But thankfully, the ever-increasing number of refugees arriving in Europe has been accompanied by an ever-increasing amount of people coming up with innovative and inspiring ways to lend the new arrivals a hand. We've written about many of them on RESET, such as the activists in Jordan training refugees in open source tech and the hotline set up for refugees to call when in danger at sea.
And now from Germany, one of the main countries of destination for refugees in 2015, there comes another creative initiative. Set up independently by a team of volunteers, and operated entirely without financial gain, the HiMate app is a platform that offers tickets and vouchers to refugees, 100 per cent free - acting as a digital bridge between refugees and the companies and services that want to help them. After downloading the app and signing up to the service, registered users can access vouchers for different products, services, cultural outings and shows - from cinema tickets to German lessons - just by using their phone. The next step is to pick up the vouchers from the company in person, taking along the identification papers that refugees receive on arrival, so that their identity can be confirmed. The app is currently available in German, English and Arabic.
The Pros and Cons of a Voucher Scheme
In the UK, where asylum seekers have often been supplied with vouchers in order to do their day-to-day shopping, instead of a cash allowance, the system has long been controversial. Many feel that forcing refugees to use vouchers instead of money is injust and a form of stigmatisation, as well as being impractical and difficult to administer, and the system was scrapped in the past, before being reintroduced 10 years ago. But the HiMate app is a completely different take on the voucher system - rather than limiting refugees on what and where they can buy, it offers them something extra - as well as physical products, it also offers them the chance to have fun and feel a part of the community.
In fact, that's exactly what the app aims to do in a nutshell. The name, HiMate (from "Hi, mate!"), as well as being an expression of welcome and friendship, when said out loud sounds like the German word "Heimat" meaning homeland. Maybe with an app like this, Europe's latest arrivals might be able to feel that they haven't just found a new place to live, but somewhere that they could one day call home.
November 2016 Project Update
HiMate is currently running a crowdfunding campaign and they need your help! Until now the whole scheme has been run almost entirely by volunteers, but now that things are really getting off the ground, they're hoping to be able raise an ambitious 25,000 EUR in order to be able to employ two paid full-time workers and a web developer. This will help the project grow, and help them further improve the app. At the time of writing they'd already raised a huge 13,000 EUR (!) but with just 20 days left of the campaign, extra support is still urgently needed. Check out their campaign video below and click here to find out how you can help.