A strange place, a foreign language, unfamiliar customs, and not much money. People who want to gain a foothold in a new culture, or are forced to as refugees, face many challenges - including bureaucratic obstacles, the pressure to find work and housing, and the need to build a new social environment.
Lucas Paletta, from Graz’s Joanneum Research non-profit organisation, is coordinating an EU project which aims to help migrants integrate - with the aid of a smartphone.
Maseltov (short for Mobile Assistance for Social Inclusion and Empowerment of Immigrants with Persuasive Learning Technologies and Social Network Services) aims to provide migrants with an information service for their practical needs, a list of helpful authorities, and a navigation service to help them find their way around their new city.
Points of interest, such as schools and doctors, are automatically displayed on the app.
The smartphone’s camera lens will recognise words on buildings, signs, buses and shops and translate them into the migrants’ native language.
A multimedia language learning option offers different levels of customized lessons that help develop competence in the language of the host country - which according to Paletta is one of the main objectives of the app.
“We don’t want to make Austrian clones but we do want to help migrants find the right ways to function as a citizen of their new country,” he said.
The aim is that the app will be structured like a computer game - so that the user can advance through different options, like asking for directions at a station, having a conversation with a doctor, or preparing for a job interview.
The user can collect points in the different areas of the app and these can be used to personalise their avatar. The Serious Games Institute, from Coventry University, has helped develop that aspect of the app.
The project is currently seeking an NGO which could advise on how to prevent the anonymous data generated by the app from being misused.
Initially Maseltov is intended to be used by Latin American migrants in the UK, Arab migrants in Spain, and Turkish migrants in Austria. From 2015 the app should be available for free, or for a very small fee, for Android and Apple smartphones.