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Providing a digital welcome for migrants

Providing a digital welcome for migrants

The influx of migrants into Europe has shed light on the need to create a more streamlined, digital approach to registration, to ease integration and improve coordination of services within and between countries. Such advances are in tune with wider attempts to modernize governmental processes | 🕒 4-min read.


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Hartfrid Wolff

Senior Manager, Lawyer

KPMG in Germany


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Hartfrid Wolff, KPMG in Germany


The world’s media has shared stories about the perilous voyages made by refugees fleeing war zones. Less has been heard about the bureaucratic journey refugees (and other migrants) undergo once they’ve reached their destination, and the critical need for better systems that allow for a faster and more efficient registration process. 

To illustrate that point: in 2015 there were 476,649 applications for asylum in Germany, with only 282,726 of those being decided. 

Speedy registration and distribution can help ensure that all new arrivals are accounted for, and, should their registration be approved, gain swift access to desperately needed services such as accommodation, clothing, food, education and healthcare. An ability to plan and act quickly will also help local authorities allocate resources efficiently and conform to applicable procurement and competition regulations.

However, traditional, manual, paper-based form-filling can slow progress, and may have to be repeated at multiple agencies and regional and municipal authorities, due to a lack of common systems and processes that make it hard to share information. In Germany, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees recently announced plans to employ an additional 1,000 staff and more by mid-2016 (after 1,000 in 2015), and introduce one central application database. This is a step in the right direction.

A significant proportion of migrants also fall through the cracks entirely, either by failing to be registered in the first place, or by not turning up at their allotted location. They may elect to travel to different locations, to meet up with family members, or because they’ve heard about attractive accommodation elsewhere through social media. 

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Registering in cyber space

A comprehensive, digital registering system could make a huge difference to the experience of new migrants, cutting waiting times, and, for those fortunate to be granted entry into the country, easing integration into a new and unfamiliar environment.

An initial interview on arrival would capture all personal information as well as specific requirements. For example, a family with children will want school details, while an elderly person may need medical attention. 

With their personal details on a single portal accessible by all agencies and NGOs, subsequent interactions become far more convenient. Activities such as transferring to a new city, visiting a GP clinic, hospital or social security office, or registering children at school, should all be quicker, as migrants will not have to re-enter data or answer repeated questions in an alien language. Such a system could eventually offer enrolment for more e-Government services and be scaled up extended to all citizens.

Using the power of mobile devices

Although they may have left most of their belongings behind, the vast majority of refugees are likely to possess mobile phones and/or hand-held devices. These can act as their essential interface with the world and enable two-way communication with respective agencies, sending out important messages and responding to requests and queries, such as appointments, and details of school times and language classes. 

The relevant authorities can also begin a dialogue that addresses critical issues of culture and citizenship, to help migrants adapt to new societal norms, and to implement proactive measures to prevent potential illegal behavior. 

A ‘digital starter kit’ app could be downloaded, to guide newcomers, giving them details on everything from how to collect a social security payment, or gain the right to work, to where to leave their household waste. These types of innovations can kick-start a fresh approach to state authorities’ social media strategies, putting greater emphasis communication between newcomers, volunteers, community members and the general public.

Another benefit of device-based registration is the associated GPS phone tracking, which helps to monitor movements of people. This facility, along with shared databases, can help identify those potentially involved in extremist or criminal activity, and enable closer collaboration between intelligence services, both internally and cross-border. Naturally, any initiatives would have to adhere to relevant data protection laws.

Crucially, some legacy IT systems across the various governmental and non-governmental agencies are unlikely to be up to the task, and will need upgrading, to provide effective channels through which to communicate and share data.

Accepting and helping refugees is a humanitarian effort. Integrating them into society in a way that benefits both the migrants and the indigenous population is a huge logistical challenge that will be made more manageable through the intelligent use of digital technology. 

About the author

Hartfrid Wolff ( is a lawyer within KPMG in Germany’s Government and Public Sector practice. He previously served as a member of parliament in the German Parliament, with responsibility for homeland security, justice, labor and social affairs.

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