Refugees are coding their way to new lives in Europe

New development academies are popping up around the continent teaching refugees how to code as a way to integrate them more rapidly into European society by learning a valuable skill. The positive outcomes of this initiate are already visible with some refugees landing jobs.

Before arriving in Finland, after fleeing the violence of his native Iraq, Eyas Taha had never coded. He was plucked from a refugee camp by Integrify, a coding academy started in 2015 by a pair of Finish tech entrepreneurs who wanted to help asylum-seekers integrate more rapidly into European society. Integrify brought Taha to Helsinki, where he lived in an apartment with other refugees and learned to code.

Integrify is one of several refugee coding academies that have sprung up across Europe. The startup community is contributing too. Techfugees, a group that has tried to manage the tech community's response to the refugee crisis globally, has held conferences and hackathons where the digerati seek to develop apps or cobble together hardware to help refugees and the charities aiding them.

Daniel Rahman co-founded Integrify after touring refugee centers and seeing how governments miserably retard assimilation. The idea behind Integrify was to help refugees by housing them and teach them a valuable skill. The program is competitive. The students are chosen for their English proficiency, previous experience with computers, and a willingness to devote long hours to learning coding. They are given laptops and also have access to desktop machines at the offices of Nord Software, a web services company, where a former supply room has been turned into a makeshift classroom. Here the students work eight-hour days, five days a week for three months, learning how to code with modern programming languages.

"We want to reimagine the refugee center as a software development center," says Niklas Lahti, who co-founded Integrify and runs Nord Software. "You could come to one of our places where you live, but you also do coding."

Munzer Khattab, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee, stumbled on a similar coding academy in Berlin. He'd always wanted to study computer science but didn't have the grades. Then a friend told him about the ReDI School of Digital Integration, started in late 2015 by a 33-year-old Dane named Anne Riechert. Like Integrify, the program is competitive, picking 42 students for its first cohort last spring from a pool of 72 applicants based on their English skills and desire to learn. Khattab says ReDI has changed his life trajectory. "Doing this school is a big thing for me," he says. "I am building a new life right now." He has learned ruby on rails and html5, both popular computer languages.

Riechert's and Lahti's efforts have had an undeniable impact on individual lives. Taha, the Iraqi refugee, has been offered a paid job by Biddl Oy, a Helsinki startup focused on bringing game-like elements to mobile shopping. 

"It is a big change from the terrible things that happened in my life," he says, reflecting on his new life as a coder. "To have peace of mind and not feel threatened by anything. Plus, I am not just wasting time. Now I am actually doing something."

Read full article from Bloomberg here.